Diners and drinkers at al fresco cafes, restaurants and bars are being warned to keep their laptops and other mobile devices secure from theft at all times, coinciding with Get Safe Online's Mobile May awareness campaign.
The warning follows a report in London's Evening Standard newspaper, after a Michelin-starred restaurateur was the victim of a laptop snatch. As if losing a laptop, tablet or smartphone is not bad enough in itself, most people's devices contain a considerable amount of private and financial data which if accessed, could easily lead to identity theft or fraud. It is not just Londoners who are affected, however; the same thing is happening in towns and cities throughout the UK, and around the world.
David Moore owns two Michelin-starred restaurants in London – L’Autre Pied in Marylebone and Pied a Terre in Fitzrovia. He was lunching outside his Marylebone premises with a colleague when a thief grabbed a computer from the table. CCTV footage shows a man clad in motorcycle gear casually walking up and snatching the Apple MacBook from the table. The two men jump to their feet and give chase but the thief escapes with an accomplice waiting on a motor scooter.
Mr Moore told the Evening Standard: "We were having coffee when this guy walks past and grabbed the laptop off the table. He was as cool as a cucumber. He ran off to an accomplice who was awaiting nearby on a scooter and they sped off. It was all over in a few seconds. We both reacted very quickly and ran after him but he was too quick." Mr Moore said his colleague had been giving a demonstration on his laptop just a few minutes earlier.
Police had told Mr Moore that they were dealing with around one incident a day in Marylebone alone of snatches of mobile devices. "They are not just snatching them off tables but people are having phones snatched out of their hands," he said, adding that the fact that the man was dressed in motorcycle gear made it difficult to provide police with a description. "At the time I thought it was outrageous, but after it sunk in I thought about what could have happened if I had caught him. He could have been violent and been armed with a knife or even a gun," he recounts.
Latest crime figures show a surge in the number of mobile phone street snatches in London – many by thieves on bikes or scooters. The number of incidents totalled 49,265 thefts of mainly smartphones, bags and iPads, an increase of 17% over the previous year.
Other victims included Annette Mason, the wife of Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason, who was walking her dogs on Hampstead Heath in December when a bike mugger in a puffa jacket man rode past and snatched her iPhone from her in "half a second". Mrs Mason says she is now too scared to use her phone in public. The previous month, policewoman Adele Cashman collapsed and died of a suspected cardiac arrest as she chased suspected smartphone thieves in Haverstock Hill, near Hampstead Heath.
Metropolitan Police recently launched an publicity campaign to warn Londoners of the risks of phone and jewellery snatches. "I see easy cash so I run up to him and grab it from his hand", reads one advertisement, highlighting how such thefts are frequently opportunistic rather than being carefully planned. A spokesman warned al fresco diners not to leave their possessions openly on show.
Computers and tablets also top burglary list
The report on property crime in the 2011-12 Crime Survey of England and Wales shows that computers and tablets top the list of items stolen in burglaries for the first time, with computers now being stolen in 40% of break-ins.