Stolen iPhones: Got robbed? Sorry, you're on your own

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The best way to get your phone snatched is to walk around playing with it. (Photo: Samuel Corum)

Alexandra Friendly’s iPhone trauma started with a robbery.

Long story short

There's no recourse for someone who's been robbed of an iPhone -- except to buy a new one at full retail price.


En route from work one afternoon this April, Friendly walked out of the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station and made her way up 10th Street NE toward home. Along the way, she popped in her earphones and played some music on the iPhone she’d bought two weeks earlier.

Not content with one distraction, she also loaded a book she’d bought off Amazon, walking with her head buried in the screen, “oblivious to the world around me,” the 30-year-old opera singer recalls.

Then she felt a hand on top of hers. And then a yank that pulled her phone out of her hand, breaking her headphones off at the plug and leaving the buds in her ears. She watched, shocked, as her iPhone thief made his way back to a car. Enraged, she ran to the car and grabbed onto the door as it started to roll off. She managed to hang on until she was dropped a short way down the block, where a woman helped her up.

She looked around and realized the robbery had happened in front of several other drivers, many of them picking their kids up from Noyes Education Campus, an elementary and middle school near 10th and Franklin streets. One other person hung around to tell police what she saw.

Friendly was a poor witness to her own mugging. Though she’d sensed a little commotion prior to the snatching, she figured it was the usual heckles and catcalls. As it turned out, that commotion was the driver of a passing car yelling at her companion to get out and take Friendly’s iPhone.

“Everything went black and white,” says Friendly. “When I think about the memories I don’t see any colors.” All she can remember seeing clearly are the young man’s shoulder-length dreadlocks as he headed to the car. The cops told her they’d be in touch if they learned anything, and that was pretty much the end of it.

Except for when she and her husband, Oliver Friendly, went to replace the iPhone. Oliver asked customer-service reps from both Apple and AT&T — the exclusive wireless carrier for iPhones — if he could submit the stolen phone’s serial number “in case someone tries to reactivate it,” he says. “But they both said they didn’t keep track of that.”

The Friendlys were told they’d have to pay over $600 for a new phone, since the big Apple-AT&T discount applies only to someone who's subscribing to a new plan or eligible for an upgrade. But the Friendlys realized they could instead break the contract for around $175, then start a new plan and get the discount on a new phone. It was a better deal, but they still had to pay around $400 to replace the phone they’d just gotten for $200.

After the robbery, Alexandra adjusted her route so that she uses a different Metro stop. Another post-robbery adjustment gives her shame. “I got really anxious any time I saw a teenage boy with shoulder-length dreadlocks. And there are thousands of teenage boys with shoulder-length dreadlocks.”

iPhone robberies like Friendly’s play out in the city all the time these days. The only real variations are how long they take and how violent they get.

Although police don’t keep iPhone-specific statistics, Matthew Klein, the commander of D.C.’s Second District, says such muggings have been an enormous problem this year in Northwest, among other parts of the city. The robberies have been frequent enough that Klein considered the opening of Georgetown’s much-hyped Apple Store this June to be an unfortunate bit of news  — a perspective that put him at odds with the vast majority of residents west of Rock Creek. “I was concerned the location would become attractive to some of these guys,” he says. Klein’s worries were justified last Tuesday night, when a woman was robbed of two fresh laptops right after walking out of the Apple Store. The thieves threw her to the ground.

Klein’s district saw a rash of iPhone thefts this summer until police made two arrests there. After one snatching, police chased the perp by car to the World Bank, where they arrested him and found six iPhones in his car. After a lull, the robberies have picked back up in recent weeks.

During just one weekend in November, there were four street-level iPhone robberies near Logan Circle and Dupont Circle. In every case, the victim was either chatting on the phone or carrying it in his or her hand on the street.

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