The couple were on their way out of Sin City Cabaret in the South Bronx at around 3:15 a.m. when two men pulled up and got out of their car, pointing a handgun at the pair, police wrote in a statement.
“You know what this is. Give up everything,” one of the robbers said, according to police.
The couple complied, handing over 30 dollars, a belt, a wallet and both of their iPhones. The thieves sped off, firing a shot into the air as they fled the scene, police said.
But as they escaped, the thieves made one crucial error: they left the iPhone’s tracking system on.
“That wasn’t very wise,” Jessica Marrero, a daytime bartender at the gentleman’s club said.
Apple users can download an application called Find My iPhone that works when an owner logs on to another Apple device (iPhone, iPad or computer). The lost device is then remotely pinpointed with GPS. Users can perform simple tasks on the missing device: lock the phone, display an onscreen message or, in the latest version, prevent it from being used or reset without the owner’s password.
Officer Clement Krug traced one of the phones stolen earlier this month to East Harlem. When he arrived at the scene, police said, he found a vehicle parked on the side of the street. Performing a routine traffic stop, he and his team were able to find the gun, retrieve all the stolen property, and arrest the accused robbers without injury, police said. One of the men charged in the case had a previous arrest record for a Bronx robbery in 2010.
It was a rare and harmonious convergence of police, victims and perpetrators: the officer used the “find my iPhone” app, the victim already had the program installed, and the thieves forgot to turn the phone off.
But Marrero, a bartender at the cabaret where the robbery occurred, said most victims of theft don’t find their phones.
“iPhone theft is definitely a problem,” she said, adding that one of her co-workers also had her phone stolen Monday. “They should have it so when it’s turned off, they can still locate it.”
The latest iOS 7, released in September, has a new feature that makes it harder to turn off the tracking system by requiring a password, but it’s not mandatory.
“It’s a question of whether or not people take that extra step,” Gerry Smith, a technology reporter for the Huffington Post said.
He added that many concerned cell phone users would like Apple to create a kill switch that would render phones useless when stolen.
“If thieves think the phone can’t be re-used, it doesn’t have any value and can’t be resold,” Smith said.
Apple did not return a request for comment about a potential kill switch.
While victims in the Bronx left the scene without a scratch, according to police, many aren’t as fortunate. Museum of Modern Art employee Hwang Yang of the Bronx was shot dead last year walking home from work, his phone put up later on Craigslist for $400.
The Wall Street Journal reported that as of mid-September this year, Apple thefts were running 10 percent higher than last year: 20,000 in New York City. The New York Police Department’s deputy commissioner of public information did not return a request for comment on iPhone theft in the city.