MPD Alerts Community on New Robbery Tactic

From MPD:

“I have noted an increase in a tactic used by suspects looking to rob individuals of the smart phones that I wanted to make the community aware of. There have been multiple incidents citywide where a suspect approaches a victim and asks the victim for the time. When the victim takes their phone out to check the time, the suspect snatches the phone. As a preventive measure, I would like to suggest that individuals do not display their smart phones when responding to an inquiry for the time of day. You could look at your watch if you wear one, give an estimate of the time or simply state that you don’t know the time.

The emergence of this tactic is most likely the result of the community taking the preventive action of not displaying their smart phones as they walk down the street. Now that robbers are adjusting to the use of this new tactic, we ask the community to also adjust as indicated above.”

48 Comment

  • I wonder if someone tried to do this to me Saturday around noon at VT and K. I was asked to google Tmobile store locations for him. I thought that he may try exactly this, so I (stupidly probably) googled and walked quickly, yelling the location to him. I’m visibly pregnant so maybe I was a target or he took pity. Or maybe he thought I’m just a nice person.

  • I’ve gotten this question on the street. I reply with whatever time i make up in my head at that moment (9:24) and just continue walking.

  • my friends and coworkers think I am just a cranky jerk, but I never trust anyone on the street. if someone asks me for directions, I will almost always check my surroundings before responding. i never give the time of day, never give (or carry) cash/change, and never never never even respond if someone asks if i’ve got a cigarette, lighter, opener, etc.

    99 times out of 100, i am just being an antisocial prick. but it helps me to avoid that 1% of occasions where (at the minimum) something sketchy happens

    • you have friends?

    • I agree with 11:51. I will usually give someone directions but anything else, I ignore them. I may be an antisocial prick too, although I prefer the term determined introvert, but if I gave my money away to every person that asked me for money, then I’d be on the street asking for money.

    • Same here. Nothing good has ever come from random people approaching me on the street. The best case scenario is that they’re a panhandler, street harasser or want to get me to sign their petition. And there are just too many panhandlers, solicitors, etc. to engage regularly and still get everything done that I need to. And I’d like to avoid worst case options like the above. I just want to get where I’m going and not be harassed or attacked on the way.

      • I don’t think being approached by a panhandler is the best case scenario. A lot of people are actually lost, and the best case scenario is you can help them out. Are you really so busy you can’t take the time to point someone in the right direction while you’re waiting for the light to change? I get asked for directions ALL THE TIME (I think it’s b/c I am not wearing headphones). I get a little “I helped my fellow person” charge when I can give them directions, and in some cases it’s resulted ina really interesting conversation.

        • considering the person could potentially rape and kill you getting asked for money is a pretty good option

          • Exactly Anon 2:47, I was trying to say that at best the interruption is a timewaster and at worst I could be robbed/raped/beaten/killed.

        • Maybe you mostly see lost tourists, but that is not the case in my neighborhood. If someone is trying to stop me, it is generally either panhandlers, Street Sense vendors, someone trying to hit on me or college kids with clipboards who want to give me their pitch about Greenpeace/Planned Parenthood/what have you. Yes, I will help lost tourists if I encounter them. But otherwise I am glad for the buffer of my headphones, because I am not trying to engage every random person I see as I move from place to place.

  • When someone asks me the time, and I take out my phone and flip it open, they never seem interested in stealing it.

  • …”You could look at your watch if you wear one”…if flash a nice watch they’ll probably kick the crap out of you and take that. Probably best to totally dodge anyone who asks for the time and fits a certain “profile”

    • If it’s dark or secluded, you might have a point, but in most situations the phone and watch don’t seem comparable. I think the idea is that they snatch the phone and run, which isn’t possible with a watch around your wrist.

  • I just give my standard answer: “Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care? If so I can’t imagine why. We’ve all got time enough to cry.” Nobody ever hangs around to hear the second verse.

  • I am willing to believe that it is sometimes a legitimate question, but I will give them the best answer I can without pulling out my phone. Sometimes that ticks them off. That tells me that they may have been trying to see what kind of phone I carry.

    • This is also my approach. Even more generally, I don’t take anything out of my pocket or bag that I’m not prepared to lose. If I know off the top of my head what time it is or how to get from here to there I will gladly tell you, and if you need a light or some spare change then sure here you go, but otherwise I can’t help you. My wallet, phone, and keys aren’t coming out.

  • houseintherear

    “4:30. It’s not late, it’s early.”

  • “…most likely the result of the community taking the preventive action of not displaying their smart phones as they walk down the street.”

    I hope this line was meant with sarcasm, but thanks for the heads up.

  • binpetworth

    I was once asked this question by a young girl on the street, and I pointed out a nearby clock on a church/building tower. She seemed mystified/annoyed; at first I thought it was because she may have been trying to steal a phone, but later I saw something on the news about how some kids don’t know how to tell time using analog clocks because they’re only been raised on digital displays. Sad.

  • These responses are pretty funny/sad. Folks talk about moving into the city to interact with people, but then nobody trusts each other enough even to give the time of day.

    • Scrillin

      I see you haven’t been mugged, yet.

      • I agree with Anonymous 12:27 and I have been mugged. If you live in a city, you certainly need to take appropriate precautions, but many of the posts here exhibit extreme paranoia. If you are so freaked out by your surroundings that you can’t interact with a stranger under any circumstances, then you really ought to think about relocating.

        • America: Home of the Free, Land of the Afraid

          What else explains our obsession with guns, crime, murder, spending as much on defense as healthcare, single family homes, automobiles, etc? It’s the fear of The Other.

      • In any event, if somebody on the street asks me a question, as long as it is not in any way obscene, I just give them a straight answer. I can usually provide the time, accurate to within a couple minutes, without consulting a timekeeping device. On the rare occasion that I realize I can’t do that, unless I’m in a place that is totally isolated and getting bad vibes about the situation, I’ll take out my phone (yes, an iphone) and check. I figure that most of the time there are so many easier targets walking around holding their smartphone in their hand, often giving it their undivided attention, and obviously not paying attention to their surroundings at all, that if somebody wanted to steal one, they’d take one of those rather than taking steps to actively gain my attention for the purpose of investigating whether I too might have a smartphone. In 5 years I’ve done this several dozen times and not once has anybody ever tried to steal it. If someday somebody does, I think I can live with 1 phone in 5 years as the price for not being an asshole for my whole life.

        p.s. Yes, I have been mugged. It didn’t involve any ruse about time or directions, three young thugs came out from behind a fence, put a gun in my face, and demanded money. I gave it to them and everybody went on their merry (or in my case not so merry) way.

        • Good response.

        • I have pulled out my phone to give people directions before, but they were a group of elderly German tourists so I figured it was fine. Most people have good instincts, but don’t always trust them. If there are alarm bells going off in your head about a person/situation I don’t think it’s asshole-ish to make a quick exit. Honestly, I’m going to use my best judgment whether I should talk to a stranger coming up to me on the street or not, and if they don’t seem legit, I’m going to keep moving and not give a second thought about whether I was being an “asshole.”

          • Ignoring people will not keep you safe. If somebody wants to rob you or attack you or otherwise give you trouble, your continuing to walk will not hinder them from doing so. If they respectfully back off and do not pursue you, they were not out for trouble in the first place and you just blew an opportunity to help somebody out at no cost to yourself.

          • p.s. I don’t always trust people either, but I find alarm bells to be the very rare exception, not the rule. If “keep walking” is the rule and elderly white people are the only exception, I hope that at some point you might consider re-evaluating.

  • One morning last week, a teenage (early tweenties at best) girl approached me in the Logan/Shaw area and asked for the time. I consulted my watch, gave her the time and we exchanged pleasantries and goodbyes. I thought nothing of it until I saw her ask another person the time not 10 minutes later. Tricky biotch.

  • I use it as a good teaching moment to look at the position of the sun and the time of the year to figure out the time of the day. It’s fun to see that instant reaction of “you is some crazy!”

    • Love this response! Let’s see, the sun is at 20 degrees, we’re on eastern standard time and we have a waxing moon. It’s a bit cloudy so that would make it….4:27

  • “It’s happy hour somewhere!”

  • 4:20. It’s always 4:20.

  • Oh, and btw, some guy (older black man in his early 50s) was hanging around on the green/yellow line platform at Chinatown last weekend with the “I’m a cab driver and I need a $20 bill in exchange for these two $10s.” I told him that I knew he was pulling a scam. I tried taking a picture of him, but he put his hand in front of his face right as I was taking it. He said, “that’s illegal!” And I said, “And which law school did you go to? Do you want to call the police?” Yes, I’m obnoxious but I hate scammers. I called transit police and they said they’d check it out. But he practically ran away and I got on the next train so I don’t know what happened. Don’t fall for this!!!!!!!!!

    • Saw the same guy at Metro Center. For what purpose might it ever be more useful to have a $20 than to have two $10’s? Not in an occupation in which you often need to make change. I’ll happily give anybody the time, directions, or in the rare occasion that I have the right combo, change that makes sense, but that a nonsensical request and there was absolutely no chance of anything good coming of it.

  • pablo .raw

    It’s unfortunate, but it’s hard to trust people anymore. I have been asked “can I use your phone”? and I of course said “no” and walked away.

  • I also rarely stop for strangers and will shout the time/directions while walking briskly away. But one day I lost my phone when I was out running, and it was funny because I wanted to ask someone if I could use their phone, or even ask in a store, but I knew I’d be met with suspicion so I had to wait until I made it home hours later to my worried husband who couldn’t reach me.

    • I’ve thought about such scenarios before, though it’s never happened to me. Nowadays we make phone calls from tiny, expensive, portable electronic devices instead of clunky cheap plastic things tethered to the wall. It’s progress but it doesn’t necessarily make everything better. Grandpa out…

    • Next time, just ask. The worst thing anybody could say is “No.”

    • I had to do that at the end of a 20 mile run while visiting my parents in the ‘burbs. I made really sad puppy dog eyes to a CVS cashier and she handed over the phone. It probably helped that I was buying something (half a gallon of chocolate milk to pound immediately) and that I looked pretty terrible. Had I been home in DC I would have used the emergency cab fare I always take on long runs.

  • Hmmm, google was selling brand new nexus 4′ s for about 210 dollars, or about the cost of a dc night out for two. smartphones are practically disposable now sans the apple zombies. robbers need to scam old people thats where the money is at, not at these disposable phones. This is 80s thinking when people used to steal car radios and tv’s…both of which you can get new for under 40 dollars.

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