The Failed Phone Thief

Alright, so I probably bought it on myself. I was holding my phone, talking quite loud as I wandered down into a dark, unlit road away from the main street. I was pretty oblivious actually, happily talking about my day completely unaware that I was absolutely making myself a victim. I heard his bike before I saw it, somewhere behind me to my right. Fearing all the stories that I'd heard about muggers on bikes snatching phones from peoples hands, I clutched my phone tighter, and lowered it till he passed. Lucky I did, because half a second later, as he came along side he tried to snatch the phone from my hands. His hands were on my hands, and he scrabbled to grab my phone.

He didn't. He was too slow, and was already past before he could unpry my fingers.

I was shocked, and angry. I yelled a stream of expletives down the road after him, already shoving my phone into my pocket to safety. Apparently I scared the person on the other end, happily chattering away with sudden screaming before the line cut.

Apparently I yelled fun things like "Nice try (insert terrible word)", and "It's NOT OKAY TO STEAL, you (insert another terrible word)". I was furious, I wanted to push him off his bike and cause him pain. I wanted him to suffer! How DARE he try steal from me?! I was angry. Furious! Adrenaline was pumping through my veins and I was absolutely ready to take him on. "Ride back here so I can punch you in the face! RIDE BACK HERE RIGHT NOW SO I CAN PUSH YOU OFF YOUR BIKE AND (insert bad word) YOU UP, YOU (more bad words)!"

He didn't ride back, he did a tiny loop back to the intersection ahead and took off down a side street. I tried to find some identifying anything, but other than it was a he on a bike, I had nothing. He was wearing a dark jacket with the hood up, a black scarf over his face. He was taller than me, but it was hard to tell when he was on a bike. I was still angry, I stepped into an alcove so I was hidden from the street and muttered more terrible things under my breath.

I called my friend back, to offer reassurance that I was okay and to vent a little (adrenaline still on a high).

The worst part, the WORST part was that the reason that I was such an attractive victim? Was because my phone was BROKEN. Absolutely broken. I'd managed to snap the end of an aux cable in the 3mm headphone jack. This means that my phone recognises that there is a headset plugged in, and I can't hear calls unless it's on speaker. Usually I'd talk on calls via a headset, but if I can't plug one in and the only way to talk is via speaker then yes, it's up by my head. Where everyone can see it.

Also, the only reason I was walking down that dark empty road was because I needed to pick up the broken cable to show the apple people. And it just so happens that my friends favour dark empty roads to live on.

Usually I wouldn't be so obvious. Usually I wouldn't have my phone out. Usually I wouldn't be walking down unlit streets. And usually, I wouldn't be such an idiot, or such an obvious phone theft target.

When I was ready (and still angry) I stepped out, grabbed the cable and turned around to head back to the well lit main road on my way to the station. I was still reeling from the encounter, and was trying to think about what I could have done differently (main plans involved grabbing him somehow, or kicking a leg out into his bike so he'd fall off so I could hurt him). I was still venting to myself, and wondering what kind of person decides that it's okay to snatch phones from peoples hand, what kind of person feels it's better to steal to make a quick dollar at the expense of someone else? I was fuming.

Because I was still furious, I wasn't really paying attention. Fail move, Elly. As I walked a way down the road he ambushed me, riding out from behind some bushes a or two house up. I didn't have my phone in my hands this time, but as he rode out in front of me he pushed me, and he pushed me hard. I yelled (knowing full well that if anything happened, making lots of noise is the best way to draw attention to whatever is happening) and I stumbled backwards.

At this point, my anger turned straight to fear. He was BIG, this guy. Standing over me on his bike, he was tall. More than 6 foot, and he was skinny, but not that skinny. Young too, I think. All my ideas about punching him in the face or knocking him off his bike were immediately quashed because there was no way that little me could do anything if he decided to go at me. I've taken self defence classes, but none of those classes prepared me for that split second where I recognised that if he came at me, I was going to get seriously hurt.

I held my breath and, after a second or two, seeing that I didn't have my phone out, he rode away. I've never been so glad to be out of a confrontation in my life. I stepped back off the street and hid in a doorway. I was shaking, and while the adrenaline was still running high, I wasn't quite brave enough to step back out onto the street right away. It took a minute or two to compose myself, and when I peeped my head out onto the street, I couldn't see him.

There was however a very ordinary looking couple walking down towards me, and as they got closer I stepped out and asked if it was okay if I walked with them back to the main road. I really didn't want to walk by myself, and they were very kind and concerned. Perhaps I looked more shaken up than I realised. There were lots of cyclists out, but none who were wearing jackets like my thief. Didn't make me feel any better, though. I was seeing a thief in every cyclist that rode by.

In the end, the very kind couple talked me down, walked me to my bus stop (on a very well lit street) and waited until I was safely onboard before waving goodbye.

But woah buddy. I've been mulling it over and over in my head these last few days. What could I have done differently (besides, obviously, not making myself such a victim)? Could I have knocked him off his bike, like I originally wanted to? Or would that have resulted in an even worse confrontation? What kind of person needs to steal phones? What kind life must he live if he knows how to offload iphones to make a profit? What situation must he be in if he needs that kind of quick cash?

I half wished that I'd been brave enough to talk to him that second time. Ask him why he wanted my phone so bad. If his situation was so dire, I probably would have given him my phone. It's insured, it would just have been inconvenient. But really, I'm not sure how much he was going to get for a broken phone.

Is this part of a greater poverty cycle? Or is it just a simple case of some guy looking to make some quick change?

I don't know. I posted about it on facebook (though much more nonchalantly than I did here) and apparently it's not an uncommon trend that's taking over London right now. Most people know someone or have heard of someone whose had their phone stolen in this way. I guess I was luckier than most to still have my broken phone. I did a quick google search, and apparently Islington (I was in Angel) has seen a ridiculous increase in phone snatches in the last year (something like a 400% increase - citation needed). The same article said that in Dec 2012, there was a total of 9751 phone snatches reported in London. That doesn't include ones that weren't even reported (I didn't report my experience, should I have?) which is an awful lot of kids on bikes stealing phones.

The story goes that once stolen, the phones are switched off, the sim removed and the handset passed on to handlers who ship the phones out of the country. That means that any block you put on with your provider won't work - the blocks are country specific. That's kind of guts. Still, on the off chance your phone is stolen, then recovered, you can register your phone at immobilise.com – a site that works with the UK police to help recover property and build evidence against thieves. (You'll need your phone’s IMEI number, which you can find by typing *#06# into your phone, which will display a 15 digit IMEI number).

Still, not a pleasant experience. Have any of you had your phone stolen from your hands by bike thieves? Is this a common trend where you are?