Snatch-and-grab thefts aren't slowing down - CBS46 News

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Snatch-and-grab thefts aren't slowing down

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It's a trend that doesn't seem to be going away: thieves stealing cell phones, tablets and electronic devices, costing consumers money and sometimes their life.

It happens on the street, but MARTA riders are also at risk. About every four days since the beginning of this year, a MARTA rider was the victim of a snatch-and-grab theft.

"He snatched it and ran. It happened so quick, I didn't even know the phone was gone," victim Shankiria Shanks said.

Shanks was on her daily MARTA route when someone grabbed her phone.  

"People was like, 'Why didn't you run after him?' I was like, 'why would I run after him and he might, he could have a gun or anything. I don't know what he got,'" Shanks said.

Shanks is one of the dozens of victims on MARTA since the beginning of the year.

The police reports are similar; a man "snatched the cell phone and ran off the train," the "cell phone was snatched out of his hands." Another one reads, "Grabbed and snatched his white iPad 2 from his hands while he was seated on the train."

"The thefts are happening all over. It's nationwide, so it's not just a MARTA problem. It is a nationwide, and I would hate to say, but I think it's close to an epidemic," MARTA police Chief Wanda Dunham said.

So much so, MARTA officers now hand out pamphlets to alert people about the problem. Dunham explains there are things that make someone more of a target.

"Usually if a person is sitting close to a door, the exit doors or entrance door, just about as the train is going to come into the station, someone will, if you're on that device, or if you're holding it or it's visible, they will come and snatch it and run out and go out the closest exit," she said.

And when you ride MARTA, you see it everywhere. People are on their phones texting, others reading their iPads. Many are by the door and not paying attention.

In 2010, a snatch-and-grab theft turned deadly. Anthony Beavers, 19, was shot and killed on a MARTA platform when he struggled with a man trying to steal his cell phone. Broderick Smith, 20, later pleaded guilty to murder.

"He was robbed at gunpoint and the only thing that was removed from him of value was his cell phone," Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said.

Howard calls for change.

"When that death occurred, many in law enforcement said to the phone companies and to anyone who would listen, is that there should be a device that would disable that phone. When the phone is removed from the rightful owner it has no value when someone else is using it. That still hasn't happened and those kinds of crimes still go on," Howard said.

Justin Wingfield thinks that may be the only way to stop these thefts.

He was on a MARTA bus when his phone was snatched. He let a man borrow his phone. Instead, the man ran off the bus with it.

"Why can't you just go out and work for it like everybody else? I had to go out and work for my phone, so I just think it's stupid," Wingfield said.

Wingfield said he learned an expensive lesson, one he shares, and one he won't soon forget.

"The people that have the stuff need to stop broadcasting it, that they have it, like me. I had my headphones in, so I was an easy target. Just keep them hidden, don't let them use your stuff. Anybody can steal from you," Wingfield said.

MARTA will soon launch a new campaign to raise awareness and to inform riders. Officers handing out pamphlets are part of that.

Last year, MARTA began adding cameras to buses to cut down on crime. By June, cameras should be installed on all buses. Installation is scheduled to begin on trains later this year. And MARTA now has an app to make it easier for people to report a crime.

In 2012, the FCC and wireless carriers agreed to create a national stolen cell phone database. It will block a stolen phone from getting service. So far AT&T and T-Mobile's databases are live. By November of this year, all carriers are expected to join.

We talked to tech analyst Jeff Kagan about this issue and how to protect your information if your phone is stolen. For his tips, click here.

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