Phone theft in London rebounds after COVID

The BBC has reported that almost 91,000 phones were stolen in London in 2022. That’s 250 per day. The risk varies widely across the boroughs, with Westminster the biggest theft hotspot and Bexley having the least phones stolen. London as a whole accounts for 67% of all reported thefts in the UK. Only 2% of handsets were recovered.

London boroughNumber of phones
Percentage of total

While most robberies are simple snatches by criminals on bikes, there has recently been an increase in violent robberies. Chief Inspector Andy Cooke told the BBC that phone theft is not a minor crime because it affects how safe people feel. “There needs to be a concerted drive to address this because it directly affects the public’s confidence in the police’s ability to keep them safe,” he said.

Phone locking reduces the incentive

Dion Price, CEO of Trustonic, a vendor of device-locking technology, comments that his firm estimates less than half of mobile phone thefts are even recorded. He says that the main reason for reporting the theft is so customers can get a crime reference number, which they need to make an insurance claim. If their device is not insured or of low value then they usually don’t even report the crime.

Price argues that improved device locking renders the phone useless and the resale value little more than zero – removing much of the incentive for theft.

Losses are far greater than they first appear

Currently, more than £48 million of phones are reported stolen each year in the UK, with recorded phone thefts up 29% in 2022.

But this is simply the tip of the iceberg. What’s frequently overlooked is that stolen phones are a gateway to other crimes.

Victims not only lose contact information, photos, call and text histories, but with the mobile now a critical element of digital identity, they risk losing passwords and usernames. Photos and videos stored on the phone can be used to blackmail victims further. Even if a handset is recovered, the owner could be subjected to more phishing and smishing attempts, or find trojans or other malware have been installed. Victims report not only having their ID stolen and fraudulent charges made to their accounts, but also the loss of company data.

With upwards of £137 billion lost each year, the UK is a fraud hotspot. If the country is serious about stamping it out, customers need to be more aware of the risks associated with a stolen phone. Authorities must likewise recognise the role stolen phones play in a complex chain of crimes.

Phone theft is part of a crime chain

The stark truth is that phone theft and the fraud that goes along with it funds organised crime and terrorism to the tune of billions of pounds per year globally. It is neither a minor nor a victimless crime.

The first step in ID theft is to gain information about victims. Find out how criminals use this information to commit SIM swap or porting fraud here.