It’s ‘Apple Picking’ Season Again on the MBTA

But not the kind where you pluck a McIntosh from a tree.

Photo by Alex Lau

Photo by Alex Lau

Hundreds of people waited in line outside of the Apple store on Boylston Street this week so they could get their hands on the company’s latest product, the iPhone 5S.

But with new technology—and the phenomenon of people sleeping outside for days at a time, just to be the first to buy a new Apple product—comes another equally fascinating concept known to police as “Apple Picking.”

No, we aren’t talking about heading out to a farm to pluck a Red Delicious off of a tree. Apple Picking in an urban setting is something completely different. With the high-demand for new smartphones comes an equally high rate of thefts, specifically along the MBTA, officials said Friday. “Unfortunately, thefts of smart phones [and] electronic devices—most notably Apple products—is a nationwide trend. This trend, often referred to as “Apple Picking,” is for the most part a crime of opportunity. However there are things you can do to minimize the chances of being victimized while traveling on the T,” Transit Police wrote in a statement reposted to their blog on Friday, the same day doors opened around the state at Apple stores, so tech-junkies could get their iPhone fix.

According to Transit Police data, from January 1 through February 26, this year alone, there were 43 robberies on the MBTA system. Of those, 36 were thefts of electronic devices, most notably smartphones such as the iPhone. In 2012, the Federal Communications Commission said that in most major cities, 30 to 40 percent of robberies involved the theft of smartphones.

But the spike in thefts isn’t always immediately obvious. “I think anytime a new product comes out, it’s not immediate, but shortly thereafter we will see a spike. We do an aggressive public relations campaign … and handout cards giving people tips,” said Transit Police Deputy Chief John Mahoney.

Mahoney said in the coming months, they will assess the number of reported iPhone thefts to see how they can better communicate with riders about the issue if it gets out of hand.

For now, officers are warning riders—for the second time in one year—to be aware of their surroundings when traveling on the MBTA. Officials claim that thieves will often stage distractions, so that people will have a momentary lapse in judgment, and turn away from looking at their phone while they have it out, before snatching an item. They also said in their warning posted Friday that criminals will wait until the doors are about to close on a train, before reaching into a vehicle and “picking” an Apple product. In a situation like the latter, people have little time to react to the device being stolen, since the doors will usually close.

To keep a fancy new phone from falling into the hands of a suspect lurking along the T’s train lines, Transit Police recommend ditching the white iPhone headphones that come with a new product, to deter someone from pegging an Apple consumer right off the bat. They also suggest downloading several programs that can keep a potential suspect from cracking into a victim’s personal information. Programs like Find My iPhone, or downloading a “remote data wipe,” can help deter this. And of course, even with the latest fingerprint technology aimed at keeping access to an iPhone safe, a cat can still unlock it with its paws, so use a passcode when available.

Mahoney said as technology advances, it certainly helps curb the issue however. “Right now, there isn’t a great recovery rate [for missing phones]. But as the phones come out, the smarter they make them there are more apps on them, making it harder for people to resell them. That’s part of what helps us,” he said.