The New Wild West: Your Laptop or Your Life?
Walaika K. Haskins, newsfactor.com
Coffee, tea, or a padlock? That might be the choice for visitors to
cafes in San Francisco who want to experience the city's new wireless
network. Just one week after the Bay Area municipality announced that
it had chosen Google to provide free wireless broadband for city
residents, police reports indicate that laptop thefts at wireless
cafes are on the rise.
Imagine sitting at a local digital cafe tapping away at your laptop
while downing your favorite coffeehouse beverage when two men approach
you as if to ask a question. That is exactly what happened to a San
Francisco finance manager after stopping at a Mission District coffee
shop late one Thursday morning.
"I looked up, and I saw this guy leaning into me as if he was asking a
question," the man said in an interview with the San Francisco
Chronicle. "I leaned forward and out of the corner of my eye, I saw
someone fiddling with the computer cord. I tried to stand up, and as I
stepped back, he stabbed me in the chest."
The 40-year-old victim suffered a partially collapsed lung for which
he was hospitalized. Adding insult to injury, the two criminals made
off with his $2,500 Apple PowerBook. From beginning to end, according
to Inspector Robert Lynch of the San Francisco Police Department
robbery unit, "the whole thing was over in 15 seconds."
String of Crimes
The incident is the latest -- and most violent -- in a recent string
of crimes in which thieves target wireless hot spots, coffeehouses,
restaurants, and digital cafes that offer free wireless Internet
service. Once a sanctuary for those seeking a little caffeine with
their Web surfing, the hot spots are now a hunting ground for
"Now that we have these hot zones, people are bringing laptops out in
the street, using them in public cafes," Lt. John Luftus, an officer
with the robbery unit, told the Chronicle.
Police statistics support the alarming trend, logging only 18 laptop
computer thefts in 2004. That number rose to 48 robberies in
2005. This year looks to top that with 18 cases reported by the end of
March and police estimating that there could be as many as 70
robberies by the end of the year.
"It's a changing culture, and crime is following it," Loftus said. "To
the criminal element, this is a valuable piece of equipment that they
can quite easily cash in on -- even otherwise law-abiding people are
tempted to buy $3,000 laptops for $200 to $300 on the street."
While San Francisco is the hardest hit of Bay Area communities, other
nearby cities, including San Jose and Berkeley, have reported a few
laptop thefts. Palo Alto and Oakland police departments, meanwhile,
are reporting no such incidents.
In an effort to prevent thefts in their establishments, some cafes in
San Francisco have installed security leashes for laptops and have
told employees to keep a watchful eye over customers. Others have
taken an even more high-tech approach to the problem, installing video
monitors and posting signs to warn their clientele that they are being
Bay Area police are considering using undercover police decoys in
areas where these types of crimes are most prevalent, but the costs of
such stakeouts are prohibitive.
"It's a lot of lattes," said Park Station Captain John Ehrlich.
Copyright 2006 NewsFactor Network, Inc.