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Cell Phone Robberies On The Rise At Charleston Town Center Mall

Reported by: Send eMail Leslie Rubin
Videographer: Matt Durrett/Troy Morgan
Web Producer: Leslie Rubin
Reported: Dec. 4, 2013 4:46 PM EST
Updated: Dec. 4, 2013 6:39 PM EST


Cell Phone Thefts
Eyewitness News Photo

Charleston , Kanawha County , West Virginia

In our tech savvy times, thieves are thriving from what is being dubbed the modern day purse snatching.

If you own a smartphone, you are a potential victim.

Just in the last three days, there have been three reports of cell phone robberies at the Charleston Town Center. As the overall numbers continue to climb, police are calling the trend a full-blown epidemic.

You probably have seen the videos of thieves swiping phones in the blink of an eye. It's a lucrative business of stealing and then selling your cell phone. They are brazen incidents that are part of a crime wave striking coast to coast.

"It used to be you show a weapon, or point a weapon, and demand someone's wallet or their purse," Lt. Steve Cooper of the Charleston Police Department said. "Now they're demanding cell phones."

Law enforcement are sounding the alarm on the cell phone theft epidemic, and it has some paying close attention to their surroundings.

"It's right there," Maureen Taylor said as she discreetly showed Eyewitness News where she keeps her phone when she is out and about.

"I really don't use it out on the street. If someone calls, I'll call them back when I'm not on the street," she said.

Police said she has the right idea, as thieves are constantly scanning the streets for easy victims.

"It's a kin to lying $200-$300 cash nearby and not paying attention to it," Cooper said.

Three people have fallen victim at Charleston Town Center since the beginning of the week.

On Monday, Michelle Garman was traveling from Indiana when she stopped at Starbucks in the mall to pass some time before catching a bus. Little did she know, she was an easy victim.

"My phone was sitting like 6 inches from my tablet, so I wasn't worried about it and I had sat there like all day, so I wasn't worried," she said.

Police said they arrested a 17-year-old for stealing the phone as she was sitting at a table.

They were able to track him down after he contacted a friend in her phone list, trying to get the friend to wire her money. The friend didn't fall for it, and tipped off police. They said he was arrested as he went to pick up the money order he thought was coming his way.

"I never imagined Charleston, W.Va., to be a place I had to worry about," she said.

Charleston police said there have been 207 cell phone thefts reported in 2013. The number is on track to surpass last year's total.

Taylor said the rash of thefts "makes me more cautious."

Until the profit is taken out of cell phone theft, people like Taylor are forced to find ways to protect themselves and not become another statistic.

On Tuesday night, Charleston police say a woman was sitting on a bench on the second floor of the mall when a man walked up to her, grabbed her arm, and snatched the phone out of her hands while she was talking on it. That suspect, only described as a black man wearing a hoodie, has not been caught.

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