Aussies heading to London are being warned to stay alert and keep their phones close as a “phone theft epidemic” hits the city.
Police data obtained by the BBC, the national broadcaster, shows a phone is reported stolen every six minutes in London – a total of 91,000 reports in 2022. Less than 2000 of those phones were recovered.
There were more than 8500 reports of stolen phones in January this year alone and only 119 were returned to their owners.
Angus Kidman, a travel and tech expert at comparison website Finder, told news.com.au it was not realistic for people to travel without phones these days so it was important for tourists to be alert and put their phone away if not using it.
“Resist the urge to talk on the phone while walking – that makes you more vulnerable because you won’t be concentrating on your surroundings,” he advised.
“Need to check a map? Do that, holding the phone in both hands, then put it away and continue.”
Kidman said it was essential to have travel insurance when going overseas and this was one of the reasons – but check your insurance policy closely.
“Many insurance policies will cover replacing a stolen or lost phone, but not all do, and some will require you to specifically list the phone on the policy,” he warned.
“Be cautious about super cheap policies, as these are less likely to cover the value of a newer smartphone.
“Make sure your phone is set up to regularly back up key information online. That way, if it is stolen, you can set up a new phone more easily without losing all your personal information.”
His Majesty’s Chief Inspectorate of Constabulary Andy Cooke told BBC the charge rate – the number of charges laid compared to the number of reported thefts – was “unacceptable” and it affected the public’s confidence in police.
“Phone theft is not a minor crime, it strikes at the heart of how safe people feel in their own communities,” he said.
The Metropolitan Police was reported to say policing phone theft was “difficult” and there were “daily operations” taking place.
Following the BBC’s story, City of London Police, which polices the district of the same name, also known as the “Square Mile”, posted a warning on social media.
“Be aware of your surroundings and be on the lookout for mopeds and bikes,” it said.
CCTV was shared of a man walking down the street on his phone. Two people could be seen on a motorbike driving up from behind him on the footpath and snatching his phone from his hand.
Five tips were offered: Be aware of your surroundings; consider hands-free, activate the security features on your phone; and know your IMEI number. This can be obtained by pressing * # 0 6 # on your phone keypad.
City of London Police said officers had recovered more than 400 phones this year and were able to return half to their owners, but did not include how many reports of phone thefts were made.
“Police have arrested and charged several offenders and will continue efforts in tackling phone thefts in the City,” it wrote.
Australian Georgia Haydon, who moved to London from Brisbane, told The Sydney Morning Heralda phone was taken from her bag in a nightclub in January.
She was able to track it to an address in London’s financial district but claimed the police “did nothing”.
“I received a letter from them saying that they couldn’t help and then phoned them up saying: ‘Look, I can see where my phone is … it looks like an off licence … can you go and check it out?’” she told the publication.
She said police told her they could not force entry and no one was likely to admit to having a stolen phone. It ended up Algeria in North Africa, according to Haydon.