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Is a Stolen iPhone Worth Risking Your Safety?


A recent study shows that more than two-thirds of smartphone users are willing to go full Charles Bronson to retrieve their stolen device from thieves.

Pop into any comments section covering iOS (NASDAQ:AAPL), Android (NASDAQ:GOOG), or even BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) devices and you can readily see how dedicated users are to their smartphones. But such devotion goes beyond simple platform fandom. Smartphones have become lifelines, constant problem-solvers, and often the sole means of occupying one's time.

So if that technological limb is suddenly amputated by some lowlife looking for a quick couple of bucks at a pawnshop, the victim's shock, loss, and rage all hit a fever pitch in equal measure. And in that emotional state, many people are willing to go full Charles Bronson, stalk the thief down to retrieve their phone, and maybe administer some vigilante justice.

How many? Over two-thirds of smartphone theft victims.

According to a recent study by the phone security company Lookout, 68% of those who've had their devices taken admit they're willing to risk their health, safety, and yes, even their lives to get their phones back -- along with the information stored on it.

And this doesn't a small handful of people: Last year, 3.1 million Americans were victims of phone theft, meaning over 2.1 million folks are hell-bent on taking matters into their own hands.

Given that iPhone and Android devices now come equipped with tracking services Find My iPhone and Android Device Manager, respectively, that quest for justice is extremely easy. A victim of theft could potentially be led directly to their phone at a thief's home -- that is, if the thief hadn't wiped the phone first. Such a scenario isn't only advised against by the authorities -- it could lead users directly into a lion's den of assault.

In an interview with The Wire, Lookout's Director of Security Communications Alicia diVittorio explained that since today's smartphones carry highly sensitive information -- everything from banking credentials to corporate email -- "smartphone victims are willing to go to extreme lengths to recover their devices, including putting themselves in danger and coughing up a great deal of money to keep their phones and the data they carry safe."

"A great deal" is right: The study determined that 50% of victims would be somewhat likely to extremely likely to pay $500 to get their phone's contents back, and a third would pay a whopping $1,000.

Obviously, in cases of theft, police recommend that the matter be reported and left to the authorities to investigate. However, countless times, the police have treated smartphone theft with little interest or priority -- even shirking the responsibility of retrieval and prosecution when the tracking data is staring them right in the face.

Last year, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said that reducing smartphone theft should be up to Apple, Google, and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), not police. Berkeley Police Review Vice Chairman Michael Sherman even admitted, "If your cell phone was stolen or my cell phone was stolen, I don't think any officer would be investigating it. They have more important things to do." (See: New York Asks Apple, Google, Microsoft to Do NYPD's Job.)

With this municipal disregard in mind, it's only natural that victims feel like they're the only ones who can make things right. But a smartphone isn't worth placing oneself in harm's way. Though the feelings of being violated and wronged may cloud one's judgment, the best avenue is to continually back up a phone's data and remotely wipe it should it ever be taken. That way, the urge to go stalking the mean streets for an iPhone is greatly reduced.

And hey, look on the bright side: What better excuse for an upgrade?

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