New Apple feature aims to stop recent increase in violent smartphone thefts

(WXYZ) - If you own a smartphone, the scenes in the video above are scary; thieves prying a smartphone from a woman's hands in the subway and grabbing one on the street in broad daylight.

It's part of a growing crime epidemic.

Smartphone theft now accounts for an astounding one in three robberies across the United States.

Police even have a name for it - "apple picking."

"These devices are being taken point of gun, they're being taken after serious assaults, so it's no small crime," said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey.

Last year New York City saw a 40% increase in mobile thefts. Students indicate that 40% of robberies across major U.S. cities involve mobile devices.

The challenge now is to take the incentive out of stealing these costly gadgets.

Until recently there has been little reason for smartphone makers and wireless carriers to improve security. After all, if your smartphone gets stolen you have to buy a new one.

But just this week, Apple unveiled a so-called kill switch that would deactivate an iPhone completely - the way you would a stolen credit card.

Craig Federighi, Senior Vice President of Apple says "With activation lock, if a thief tries to turn off 'Find My iPhone,' or if they even wipe the device entirely, they will not be able to reactive it because they don't know your iCloud username and password."

Obviously we don't know yet if hackers can get around Apple's new security feature but in the meantime you can protect yourself by being extra aware of your surroundings and keeping your iPhone out of plan view when you're not using it.

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