Firsthand Account of iPhone Snatching while waiting for Metro

Photo by PoPville flickr user pablo.raw

“Dear PoPville,

On Friday (8/23), I was inside the Columbia Heights metro station at 11:30pm, and waiting for the next metro train (green/yellow line) to arrive. I was sitting on a bench on the platform, and the sign said “10 minutes” until the next train arrived. So I took out my cell phone and started reading. The next thing I knew, someone from behind me reached out and grabbed my iPhone. At first I thought it was a friend playing a joke. I had heard about the cell phone thefts but I didn’t realize the thieves were approaching women who were actually USING their phones with lots of people around. Unlike the picture in the WMATA released on August 16th, these guys did not have hoods on. I was chasing them up the escalator steps and saw that they were black teenagers (but never got a good look at their faces, since they came up from behind me to steal my iPhone).

Anyway, my advice is (A) not sit down on a bench while waiting for a metro. By the time I had stood up and grabbed all my grocery bags, the teenagers already had a 45 second lead on me; and (B) don’t check your iPhone while on the metro platform.

I ran up screaming behind the kids but the station manager ignored my screams and ignored the fact that the kids jumped over the exit turnstile without paying. The station managers called the police and I filed a police report. Since the guys did not have hoods on, I am sure the cameras on the platform or at the turnstile got a good picture of them.”

70 Comment

  • That stinks, but not sure a situation like that can really be avoided.

  • “I am sure the cameras on the platform or at the turnstile got a good picture of them.”

    Hahahahaha, you expect the police to put some effort into catching them? The DC police couldn’t be bothered to do anything when I got robbed at gunpoint. The transit police are even more worthless. Welcome to DC.

    • +1 The real news here is that the station manager bothered to call the police and that they took a report.

    • Most cameras in metro stations aren’t recorded — there’s no giant DVR sitting on each screen recording 24 hours/day. A few cameras (mostly the ones on the managers’ booths) are recorded onto DVDs, but they’re by far the minority.

  • Happened to my wife last year at the Capitol Heights Station. She was using it while seated on the train and just moments before the doors closed, someone grabbed it and ran. She pursued him but no one stopped him.

    In any case, you should do this if you feel that you have no hope of recovering it:


  • “…the station manager ignored my screams and ignored the fact that the kids jumped over the exit turnstile without paying.”

    There’s a lot of good Metro employees out there. Unfortunately, there’s also a lot that are worthless sacks of s**t.

    • my guess is the station managers are trained not to be a hero in that situation and call the police.

    • In all honesty – what exactly do you expect the station manager to do? I doubt that they would risk their well-being over your (allegedly*) stolen cellphone.
      *I’m not questioning whether OP’s phone was actually stolen or not – just pointing out that what seems obvious to you may not seem just as obvious to someone else.

      • I hear you. I don’t expect a station manager to give chase or tackle the thief, BUT for f’s sake show some human responsiveness and compassion to the victim of a robbery. Don’t just dumbly stare for a minute, make no audible response, and slowly amble over to the phone to call the police and then go about your day. I’ve seen it firsthand.

  • The DC police will do nothing, and I’m not surprised that the Metro personnel were less than stellar, too. I saw this happen at Union Station, too. Very similar situation.

    My question is this: what do thieves get from taking an iPhone these days? Half the time the phones are locked and inaccessible to anyone but the owner. And if they’re not locked, then presumably the owner will call and cancel the service ASAP. Is there a way for the thief to start a new plan with a stolen phone?

    • unlocked phones are valuable. But I’m sure some of them do it just for kicks. If one out of every 5 they steal are usable, they still earn money on their crimes. It’s sad but true.

      • Even old ones? My sister had her Iphone 4 stolen in Boston. I can’t imagine that the value of the Iphone 4 is much these days since there are now 2 newer models….

        • I had no idea the iPhone 4 was already considered old and worthless! Besides, how can someone really tell?

        • A wiped and cleaned iPhone 4 can sell for about $150 on Ebay. Locking the phone still means the phone can be wiped and unlocked – just without your data.

          Reporting it stolen only affects phones for Verizon or Sprint. AT&T does not maintain a list of stolen phones and they can be reactivated with a new sim card.

          This will change with iOS7 where if you report the phone through iCloud as stolen only the owner can unlock – even after a complete wipe.

    • Sparta

      DC police follow up on cell phone thefts. I sat on a DC Grand Jury last year and heard three cases of cell phone thefts, two of which happened in Metro.

  • While I hate that this happened to you (or happens to anyone), I hate to say it….DUHH. They specifically look for people using their phones because then they aren’t locked, and more valuable.

    There have been dozens of local news reports on this. Specifically telling you to put your phones away.

    Like I said, this sucks…but it’s the new normal unfortunately.

    • If I were a thief, I would steal from someone using it, because they’re most likely off in another world, distracted, and not paying attending to their surroundings. Sorry, but duhh +1.

  • What can be done in situations like these and not make yourself the prey. I am sure they noticed that you had a bunch of groceries, you were unaware of your surroundings and you were focused on your phone. It is unfortunate to hear of your experience. I usually just don’t advertise I am carrying anything when I am walking around DC at that time of night.

  • My husband was at the Fort Totten a few weeks ago waiting to get the redline to work when I woman began screaming. A guy grabbed her phone and she went up the escalator chasing him but then fell. My husband a few others caught up with the guy and held him until police arrived. Her phone was retrieved. This is happening too often. I try not to pull out my phone while out.

  • Sheesh
    thats pretty wreckless on their part

    they probably assumed you would be too scared to pursue or even if you did could not keep up or defend yourself

  • valentina

    I cringe when I see people on the metro engrossed in a game or a ebook on their electronic devices, and especially people who let their children riding in strollers play with the iphone/ipad. It would be so easy for someone to snatch that out of a small child’s hand. You have to stay cognizant of who is approaching you at all times. Unfortunately these are the time we live in.

  • I have never, ever heard of a person getting their New Yorker snatched away on the metro.

    • “I was sitting on a bench at the U Street Station platform reading the new issue of n+1 when these two guys in skinny jeans and hip glasses came up and snatched it right from my hands! I was, like, “Hey I haven’t even finished the article on Slave Capitalism!” I chased them up the escalator but they jumped on their single-speed bicycles and pedaled away. The station manager was entirely unsympathetic and I don’t even think he’s read Derrida before. I don’t expect the cops in this city will care, either. “

  • You pick up grocery bags slowly

    • Why pick up grocery bags at all to run after some theives? If there’s a better chance of me catching up to them, I’d rather just ditch the bags or go back to them later. Someone might take them, but … I mean it’s just groceries.

  • You’re anonymous and repulsive.

    • Your anonymous is repulsive?

    • Haha, that reminds me, I remember reading a while back that a serial cellphone mugger was working the blocks surrounding my alma mater. Apparently, he held up one girl at gunpoint, demanded her phone, and when she tried to hand over her Blackberry, he snarled “I only want iPhones!,” threw it back at her in disgust, and fled.

  • So sorry to hear about this. I wonder if you can buy a case with a strap that goes around your hand.
    The problems in Columbia Heights will not go away unless they get rid of the low income projects close to the metro. I constantly see goups of teenagers hanging outside the low income housing building and courtyards. These are the kids that are causing problems in the metro and the immediate neighborhoods.
    Low income housing should be replace with mixed income housing, the model is outdated and has proven to be detrimental for socio-economic growth.

    • Phone thieves may not be from the area where they steal the phone. That’s why they pick the metro. Easy transit to many different areas of the city so people in their neighborhood won’t notice them.

    • This is your response to at least two posts today. I really doubt that all of the problems of the area will be solved by converting the projects to mixed-income.

      • This problem will diminish when people stop acting like they live in some fairy tale land where there is no danger around them. I have very little sympathy for people who–after all that has been reported about this; after the public relations campaign from the chief of police, telling people to be aware of their surroundings; after countless texts from DC Alert; after one blog sob story to the next–you people still walk the streets with your head down and your ears plugged. This ain’t Kansas people! This ain’t your ivory tower, protected college campus either! This is the former murder capital! Don’t blame poor people living in the projects. 98% of them are decent people just trying to get by like everyone else. Look in the mirror if you want someone to blame.

      • No it wont, but it certainly is a good place to start.

      • Thank you E. I gave up on earbuds and my iPad a long time ago (especially outside of rush hour). Paper book, phone in bag.

        L’Enfant has a damn screen warning about phone snatchings, I’m sure other stops do to. At 11:30, you need to be alert, not aimlessly passing the time.

  • At some point DC government & police need to be held accountable… When folks can’t even use their phone while riding the metro, there is a major problem. I would like to know what is being done other than telling people “y can’t use smart phones on the metro.” How is that a solution? Or a realistic solution? How about focusing targeted enforcement on the problem stations and/or trains and cutting down on the loitering in and around metro stops. I understand not all people hanging around metro stops are guilty, but why do we allow people to do it? There are plenty of other public spaces designed for congregating – not metro stops.

    Contact your council member. A simple email works. Or a quick phone call. The only way things change are if enough people complain.

    • “When folks can’t even use their phone while riding the metro, there is a major problem. ”
      Unlike the halcyon days when people could expect to flash $600 of technology in public without fear of molestation? I’m not badmouthing using devices in public but it is an unprecedented experiment that’s going pretty well so far.

      • figby

        I don’t support police being “held accountable” so oblivious idiots can play with their phones in blissful, unmolested safety. Priorities?

  • Metro staff are completely worthless. If you are black and a teen, you have free reign to do whatever you please, they will not lift a finger, or even say anything in protest. Honest people subsidize the fare of these criminals.

  • It still shocks me that such ignorance and cowardice exists in such a diverse environment as DC, but I’m not sure why. What I am sure of is that this poster is on the same level as the thieves described in the original post.

  • Gentrification is a quick and dirty way to solve the problem which in turn creates many more problems, such as what we are experiencing now with these smartphone stealing. It is not a black or white issue, since there are plenty of rich minorities in the neighborhood that are getting robbed and mugged by the occupants of the projects. The District needs to focus on mixed-use housing.

  • I had my iphone snatched a few years ago and now have death grip on it. I’m sure it could get wrestled away from me, but I think it makes me a less appealing target. So, yes, I’m the paranoid lady in the metro holding my phone with two white-knuckled hands.

  • I dunno what you can do besides A) have insurance B) always used a complicated password C) download some tracking app and D) if you know how to do it enable it so you can brick your phone when someone takes it.

  • For those reading this, download Find My iPhone or a similar GPS app. I read in the Post a couple months ago how a guy who had that on his phone was able to lead the cops to a house with a whole stash of stolen phones, iPads, etc. If it ever happens to you, maybe you can help take a criminal off the street.

  • Two other things people should know about with regards to stealing smartphones: 1) My roommate once fell asleep and awoke to a teenage girl (black) reaching in his pocket trying to steal the iphone. She ran away laughing. 2) My iphone was stolen out of my bag when I wasn’t paying attention. Basically, keep it in your pocket and stay awake. Sucks that we have to warn each other this way.

    • I would no more sleep on the metro than I would take my shoes off. It isn’t about theft. Its just etiquette.

  • My $14 stupid phone and I are feeling a little vindicated right now.

  • DC CapHill

    How hard is it to just NOT use your damn phone in public? Problem solved. Don’t give them a target, and there’ll be no snatching. Pay attention. Don’t fall asleep. Basic common sense.

    And forget the Metro cops, or the DCPD for that matter, you see someone sprinting OUT of a Metro, especially with an accomplice, since it’s well documented they work in pairs, you have free reign to do what you need to do to detain their asses. Trip them, grab them, hell drop a blindside hay-maker on them, it’s not like they don’t deserve it! You’re telling me a PLATFORM full of Citizens can’t overpower two teenagers? How hard is it to help your fellow resident, whether they actually deserve your help or not? That’s half the reason a problem even exists, you have a bunch of grown ass adults scared sh*tless of some juveniles.

    • I’m not scared by the teenagers, I just don’t really care enough to get into a physical altercation with one of them over someone else’s phone.

    • So, what’s the point of having a mobile phone if you can’t use it in public, or play with them when you’re bored? That’s why we buy them.

      this is like saying you’ll get fewer dents in your car if you stop driving it on roads.

  • Hopefully there will be a more concerted effort to curb this as it has been more prevalent in recent weeks; and perhaps maybe the start of school might help. Still, it’s ridiculous that people should have to worry about getting punched in the face over a phone or an iPod. We’re not talking about lavish watches or jewelry here; these are simply commonplace items that are a necessity now. Someone has to get a better control on the youth antics on Metro, and this has been evident for years. I’m tired of dealing with children of children running amok, running through train cars, barking at people, playing loud music, etc. There are hardworking, taxpaying, home-owning people in this city (and this transcends the stereotypical white gentrifier class) that should’t have to put up with this crap. At the end of the day, these are often the people who are subsidizing the families of these delinquents. Granted, we live in a city with crime, and I don’t pretend to be idealistic. Vigilance remains important, and sadly far too many people are completely oblivious of their surroundings. Still, we’re not talking about victims being caught in awful neighborhoods in the middle of the night. Often these are people working, commenting, and going about their regular business.

    • “these are simply commonplace items that are a necessity now”

      WTF?? Necessity? Oh please. That is so ridiculous. No, a $600 smart phone is not a necessity.

    • “We’re not talking about lavish watches or jewelry here; these are simply commonplace items that are a necessity now.”

      What?? Seriously? I thought I owned some expensive stuff and I don’t own a single item of jewelry that costs more than a top of the line iPhone. The cheapest retail iPhone 5 without a contract is over $600 and they go up to almost $1000. That is more than rent on my first appartment in DC when I moved here 10 years ago. That is some serious money that you’re just waving around and it is lavish to a lot of people. And it isn’t a necessity. A lot of people live just fine without one.

  • Psmitty311

    With better tech coming to newer smart phones that make it easier for a victim of theft to brick or locate their phones, I think (and this is just one theory) that thieves are making an effort to snag phones now while we’re all still walking around with vulnerable models. Only once these phones become useless to thieves will they reduce their efforts to steal them. I would love to see phone manufacturers and carriers try to come up with a single solution to combat this phenomenon. I would also like to win the lottery. We’ll see which happens first.

    To the OP, check with your carrier and try to kill your phone. I’d say there’s less than a 0.01% chance of you seeing it again, but at least you can try to make it useless to those bastards who wronged you. Best of luck.

  • Take this story as a cautionary tale… Pay attention! When you are walking down the street or in the metro, you must be aware of who is around you. Pay attention to who seems to be paying attention to you. Don’t walk down the street staring at your phone, or sit in the metro staring at your phone. You might as well be holding and staring at a few hundred dollar bills in your hand. This is the world and the city we live in.

    Pay attention!

  • Hard to get worked up over personal property theft. It’s a part of life; get used to it.

    • exactly. I need to start stealing peoples stuff as the cops wont do anything and the victims will just cry on the internet. These posts show how easy it is. What is your address by the way??

  • When you get it replaced, time to only use it when you are actually sitting down on the train. It would take a really smooth maneuver to get it out your hands then. I really wouldn’t mind detaining some of these thugs myself if I knew others would help me fend off the accomplice(s).

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