The New York Criminal Law Blog

Prevent iPhone Theft: Register with NYPD, Use Find My iPhone App

We've complained about the NYPD's big brother tactics a bit. We've also pointed out the massive increase in thefts of iPhones and other Apple gear. After all, if you are a thief, that $600 phone is much more tempting than a Walkman, right? If you've spent the last eight days waiting in line, or even just spent a few hundred dollars and sold your soul to a long-term cell phone contract, the last thing you want to worry about is finding a new cell phone after some miscreant rips the phone from your warm, loving embrace.

The NYPD is here to help with Operation I.D. According to NBC New York, officers are posted at six Apple stores, seven Verizon stores and eight AT&T stores for today's launch of the iPhone 5. (Apparently, Sprint gets no love from the boys in blue.) They will be registering the serial number of your phone as well as engraving an optional new serial number (beginning with NYC, of course) on the phone's casing. This will allow them to identify property if it is lost or recovered from a thief.

Should you submit your information to Big Brother Blue? That depends on your level of paranoia. Theoretically, with the serial number, they could probably track your phone and find you. Then again, they can also do that with your phone number or a court order to your cell company. (If you've got something to hide, or wear tin foil hats to keep the voices from talking to you, try using a burner or a prepaid SIM card in an unlocked iPhone.)

NYPD's Operation ID registration card

As for the engraved serial numbers, it's a great idea with drawbacks. If the phone is recovered, but locked with a passcode, it's going to be difficult for the NYPD to check the Electronic Serial Number via the settings menu. The engraved serial number is easily visible and tells the officer that the phone is definitely registered with the department. Then again, carving things into your cell phone might kill the resale value (Apple products hold their value better than any other cell company) and a crafty thief could simply replace the housing with an eBay replacement (though most probably aren't motivated or capable enough.)

The final thing to keep in mind is the Find My iPhone service. The officers are helping customers figure out how to operate the software and are highly encouraging its use. It allows the phone's owner to track the location of the phone via GPS if it is lost or stolen. Why carve a serial number in your phone when you can simply use an app?

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