HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A new team of government agencies wants to stop what's called apple picking. Not the fruit but the phone. Smartphone theft is becoming an epidemic. Law enforcement agencies all over the country, including here in Hawaii, are calling out cell phone companies saying its time they put safety ahead of profits.
More than 1.6 million people had their cell phone stolen last year. Thieves are getting so bold they take it from victims as they're talking so the thief won't need a pass code to use it. It's a crime called apple picking and people have been hurt and killed in the process.
A phone was swiped from the 7/11 store on Piikoi Street in Honolulu while Chad Asuncion shopped.
"I actually had my phone on the counter and went to pay for the ice and as I was bagging the ice it got taken from right under me," said Chad Asuncion, Smartphone theft victim. "In an instant it was gone."
Asuncion happens to be the Internet Director for HawaiiNewsNow so he's very tech savvy and the wrong guy to mess with. He immediately tracked his phone to a volleyball tournament happening at McKinley High School. Then later to the suspect's address. After two weeks of investigating he finally got his phone back.
"Going through the whole ordeal it's almost like you wish there was something in place like when you lose your wallet and you have your credit cards and its one quick phone call and boom everything is shut off," said Asuncion.
A new coalition agrees. It's made up of government agencies from all over the country who met with cell phone makers today to get a kill switch installed on all devices making them useless when stolen and thus killing the resale value.
"What we want to do with this coalition is say hey guys you're manufacturers, you're selling huge amounts of these smart phones. You're making tons of money. If you're going to do that be a responsible manufacturer," said David Louie, Attorney General of Hawaii, who is part of the coalition.
The coalition says cell phone makers raked in $69 billion in sales last year from the United States alone.
Hawaii has 30,000 thefts a year, many of which include cell phones.
"There is a big profit margin. Right now the manufacturers don't have a disincentive because they just sell you a new phone," said Louie.
Apple has already said it will add a type of kill switch on new iphones, although the coalition says it's still not perfect.
"We think more is necessary," said Louie. "Technologically I think a lot of things are possible."
He hopes the apple picking harvest will be spoiled soon.