Pickpocketers steal iPhone at a Los Angeles bar; Victim gets death threats on replacement phone

It was a typical Friday evening for Anthony Smiljkovich. He was enjoying time with friends at The Bullet bar in North Hollywood

That is, until his phone went missing, turning a fun night into a nightmare.

"As soon as I realized that my phone was gone, my heart just sank," Anthony recalls. "Oh my God, everything's gone."

The bartender's response only heightened his alarm: "No, I don't have your phone. Six people here tonight have lost their phones." 

This unsettling revelation made Anthony wonder – what was going on?

Cell phone thieves targeted bars and pickpocketing devices to sell on the black market – a common and growing issue. According to the Federal Communications Commission, 1 in 10 smartphone owners fall victim to phone theft.

"It's becoming a bigger and bigger problem every day," said Steve Tcherchian, a cybersecurity expert. 

Steve said he, too, has been a target of cell phone thieves.

"If anybody gets a hold of your phone, your entire digital life is connected to that device. Everything from your bank accounts to your social media to everything else."

In Anthony's case, he acted quickly.

"I called Apple right away, and they assured me that once it's in Lost Mode, nobody can get into the phone."

Anthony secured a new phone with the same number but soon faced another nightmare – the thieves began threatening him.

"It was like a gut-wrenching feeling," Anthony says.

The threats were chilling: "I know who you are and where you live, and your whole family will get slaughtered." 

Another text said, "I'm going to beat and rape you horribly," and "Your best option is to remove it now. I'm angry now, don't mess with me." 

But Steve asserts, "Almost all of the time, they're just empty threats because they're trying to scare you into releasing that phone."

Anthony tracked his stolen to Gardena. It eventually ended up in China.

"It goes from wherever you've stolen it to China, to places where they've got a huge black market for electronics," Steve explained. "They'll take various parts of phones, create a Frankenstein phone, fully functional, fully working, and then sell it like it was brand new."

To protect yourself, Steve recommends turning on stolen device protection and two-factor authentication, plus "Go to Face ID and passcode and turn off all of the settings that enable you to do anything on the phone without authenticating first."

Anthony reflects on his ordeal, recognizing its commonality. "When you go to the Apple support groups, you see hundreds of people experiencing the same thing – stolen phones followed by threatening texts and emails."

The LAPD issued the following safety tips:

  • Keep your wallet and/or cellular phone in your front pocket to keep it close
  • If you’re going to be in a crowded setting, rap a rubber band around your wallet and/or cellular phone so it doesn’t slide out easily
  • Hide your wallet and/or cellular phone in a hidden or secret pocket if you have one
  • Avoid rummaging through your wallet to count money