Special Report: Thieves prey on gadget-toting metro passengers
Published Thursday, February 23, 2012 6:00PM EST
Thieves are increasingly targeting users of electronic devices who travel on the Montreal metro, often using violence to steal smart phones, MP3 players, tablets and other such costly gadgets, at a rate of about one reported incident per day.
Police added 132 officers to metro patrol five years ago, but to no avail, the problem of electronic-device theft has spiraled, as travelers carrying smart phones often worth over $500 are routinely preyed on by tech-hungry thieves.
Criminals acts are down by seven percent in the metro since 2007 but the electronics thefts have not decreased apace.
Last year, 356 electronic devices were reported stolen in the Montreal metro, often through the use of violence, as Gregory Paquet learned the hard way.
"I was texting someone on my iPhone and someone just appeared from behind and just socked me in the face," said Paquet.
Paquet suffered a broken nose and bruises in the attack and soon learned that he was far from alone.
"The cops just told me that this kind of thing happens. They have a few guys who just do that, some guys just steal one iPhone a day, mostly in the metro," he said.
The thieves often don't hesitate to use violence or attempt to cash in on other people's kindness, as Lindsay Gallimore learned when she was approached by a man who appealed to her for help.
Gallimore noticed that someone had followed her out from the metro and just before arriving at her destination, "he tapped me on the shoulder, and he said, ‘Madame! Madame! C'est un urgence!' He was telling me his cell phone wasn't working, could he use mine?"
Before Gallimore could even decide what to do, the thief yanked her phone from her hands and sped off on foot.
Bandits often swoop in on people just as metro doors are opening or closing, according to police.
One common trick employed by the bandits employs pickpocketing techniques.
"Some lean into the person, and then try to take out the wallet on the side," said Carlo DeAngelis of the Montreal Police Metro Squad.
He recommends people survey the landscape and be wary of people who have, "a nervous demeanor."
Police arrested seven suspected thieves last month alone.
Some of them are even part of organized theft gangs. Last June seven teens were charged with running a ring with which allegedly stole hundreds of phones which they had already arranged to sell before they had even stolen.
"Someone will put an ad on kijiji to sell a phone, once it's sold, they will commit the crime afterwards to supply the person who just bought the phone," said Montreal Police Metro Squad chief Alain Lariviere.
Police say the best way to keep devices from getting stolen is to simply keep them out of sight of others.
And all victims should report thefts.
Those who lose their phones not only lose valuable property, they also become potential victims of identity theft.
One expert recommends that owners of smart phones install certain helpful apps to help in the event of that nightmare.
"Remote locate, remote lock, and remote wipe. These are the three functions that are very important when you lose, or once, you know, your smart phone gets stolen," said Sylvain Patry, VP of Protectionpower.ca