Cell phone store robberies pose serious threat to employees and customers

Surveillance video captures an armed robbery at a local cell phone store.
Spike in Cell Phone Store Robberies
Store robberies

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - Cell phone stores are being robbed so often, some people are calling them the new banks.

Nationwide, it is estimated that more than a third of all robberies are related to cell phones. They are scary and life-threatening crimes.

"It's pretty scary," said Juan Vasquez.

The Boost Mobile employee has been robbed twice. In 2016, store security cameras showed him jumping over the counter and foolishly trying stop an armed robber as he fled with a backpack full of phones.

This year, the cameras recorded the second hold-up, too. Vasquez stayed in his chair while three thieves pointing guns surrounded him, demanding iPhones and cash. Vasquez remembered his thoughts.

"That my life would end. I did get told I got lucky that day multiple times," he said.

How did he get lucky?

"Because I didn't die."

Sources tell Eyewitness News police suspect at least three groups of young men are targeting mobile phone stores in Marion and surrounding counties. They hit three in three days. Some refer to cell phone stores as "the new banks."

"That's the good way to put it, the new bank," Vasquez said with a serious look.

IMPD does not keep statistics on the number of cell phone store hold-ups. The Federal Communications Commission estimates 30-40 percent of all robberies are related to cell phones. Some cities are seeing double-digit increases in thefts. Phones are small, expensive, and easy to resell at high prices.

Store security cameras and keeping phones locked in safes aren't stopping thieves. So stores are now locking their doors. Customers have to be buzzed in. People wearing backpacks, hoodies, hats or anything hiding their faces from security cameras aren't allowed in until they they take them off.

A Canadian company developed a tracking device disguised as a smartphone. It automatically goes off when it leaves the store with real phones.

The industry is attempting to make stolen phones worthless by putting them on a so called "blacklist." That's so U.S. and some foreign carriers won't turn them on.

Consumers shopping for used smartphones should make sure they are not stolen or on the blacklist. Websites like Stolen Phone Checker make it easy to enter the phone's serial number and get results.

Vasquez said police caught the armed robber he chased 2016. He hasn't heard anything about the three who who held up the store in December,.

If the hold-ups continue, he's worried about the consequences.

"Somebody losing their life, whether it being the store rep or even the robber," he said. "I mean, somebody losing their life."