Police warn of cellphone thieves who prey on users’ generosity

EVERETT — It’s happened two times already, and nearly a third.

A man approaches a student on the Everett Community College campus and asks to use her phone.

She obliges by handing it over, and he promptly runs away.

Now campus security and Everett police are asking students and staff to be wary. At least once the ruse involved asking for the time, so someone would pull out a phone, EvCC spokesman Katherine Schiffner said Monday.

“Don’t lend anyone your phone,” she said. “If there’s an emergency, make the call yourself.”

This particular kind of theft hasn’t been reported lately in places other than the campus, Everett police officer Aaron Snell said. The investigation is ongoing.

The first incident at EvCC was reported about 4 p.m. May 26 near Whitehorse Hall. Afterward, the man ran south on Broadway, Schiffner said.

The second theft was about 8 p.m. June 1 near the bus station in the middle of campus, in the area of the gym.

Then Thursday, a woman was approached as she was getting into her car. A man asked her for the time, Schiffner said. As the woman was pulling out her cell phone, an EvCC security officer pulled into the parking area.

“The guy took off running as soon as he saw the security car,” Schiffner said. “The student did not lose her phone, thankfully.”

All three incidents involved a similar suspect description. He was described as black, about 5-foot-10, with short hair, no facial hair and an athletic build. In one case, he wore a white T-shirt and camouflage pants.

Thefts occur sometimes on campus, but it’s unusual to see a trio of cases so close together, Schniffer said. Usually thefts happen when someone leaves a purse or wallet unsupervised, she said.

Meanwhile, Lynnwood police have investigated two cell phone thefts in the past year at Edmonds Community College, Sgt. Sean Doty said. Last fall, his agency also warned people in Lynnwood about a series of thefts and robberies targeting people walking alone at night with visible electronics, including phones and music players. Five incidents, including attacks and attempted attacks, were reported at the time.

In general, women more often are targeted in the kinds of thefts recently seen at EvCC, Snell said. The motives in the thefts may vary, but stolen phones often can be resold for a fraction of the original price, he said.

Most Snohomish County school districts on Monday said they haven’t seen any major problems with cell phone thefts. Some, including the Edmonds district, reported a decline.

In recent years, a few local high schools have launched registration programs for students’ electronics so serial numbers, models, and other details are on file in case of theft.

Cell phone thefts aren’t just a result of the smart phone era, Snell said. They’ve been reported since the days of the days when handheld phones were the size of bricks.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

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