GARDAI have smashed a steal-to-order smartphone gang who were targeting Christmas parties in Irish city centres.
Three men, all Romanian nationals, were arrested in Cork following a spate of thefts over the weekend. The thefts all involved high-end models such as iPhone 4s and 5s as well as Samsung Galaxy 4s.
Each phone was taken while people were either having lunch during Christmas shopping breaks or attending parties in pubs and restaurants.
The three men were arrested after gardai mounted a surveillance operation in Cork city centre following almost a dozen reported smartphone thefts in just 36 hours.
The three were arrested when found to be in possession of 10 iPhones. All three are in their 20s and 30s.
The men were questioned at the Bridewell garda station with a file on the matter now being prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). Gardai are now trying to trace the owners of the phones.
The arrests came after gardai said that smartphone thefts were becoming a matter of national concern. Last May, Dublin gardai arrested a number of Bulgarian and Romanian nationals who had apparently flown into Ireland to conduct a spate of thefts in nightclubs. One man was stopped with nine phones worth almost €5,000.
Over 12,000 phones were stolen in Ireland by October with a handset being taken on average very 30 minutes. That represents a 33pc increase on the same period in 2012.
"It is a combination of phones being stolen to order for the Christmas market and as well as crimes of opportunity," a Garda National Crime Prevention Unit spokesman said.
"Tens of thousands of people are attending parties at this time of the year and everyone uses their smartphone for photos, Facebook and Twitter. So phones are readily accessible to thieves."
Detectives are particularly worried that the increasing trend of people storing personal financial details on their phone is one of the key targets for criminals.
The Carphone Warehouse said many smartphones can use a tracking app that can help locate the handset or wipe sensitive data remotely.
Tips for keeping your phone safe
* Always store your IMEI/ESN number. This allows a stolen phone to be disabled by the operator.
* Back up all data and content to your laptop or tablet.
* Never store sensitive financial data such as PIN numbers or credit card details on your phone unless it is password secured or encrypted.
* Always have a locking mechanism turned on.
* Report all incidents of theft.