Cell Phone Pictures
Cell Phone Pictures

Cell phone theft is one of the biggest crimes in the U.S. Some people think a kill switch could be the answer. See cell phone pictures.

Adam Gault/Photodisc/Getty Images

Shoved to the ground by two burly strangers, San Francisco resident Dalton Huckaby's iPhone 5 is stolen. A month later, too scared to display his new smartphone in public, he takes hours to reply to texts or phone calls. He won't make contact until he and his smartphone are tucked safely inside his home [source: Wollan].

In 2012, an estimated 1.6 million Americans had their smartphones stolen. The thefts were particularly common in larger cities. For example, about half of the robberies reported in San Francisco included smartphones [source: Consumer Reports]. About 40 percent of the reported robberies in every major metropolitan area, including Washington, D.C., and New York, N.Y., involve the theft of smartphones [source: Metropolitan Police Dept. DC].

Why are smartphones thief-bait? Stealing smartphones is a profitable enterprise. For each device sold on the black market, a thief can gain hundreds of dollars; the more valuable the device, the greater the payoff.

iPhones usually garner the highest payouts, a practice that's led some to dub the theft "Apple picking" [source: Pepitone]. Others simply call it an iCrime [source: Wollan]. And to add insult to injury, if your smartphone isn't password-protected, thieves can access private information that can lead to identity theft [source: MPDC].

To help stem the rising tide of smartphone thefts -- and the rise in injuries or deaths reported as a result of the crimes -- consumer watchdogs, prosecutors, legislators and law enforcement from more than a dozen states formed Secure Our Smartphones (S.O.S) in 2013 to urge smartphone carriers to take action [source: Gogolak].

The group's primary proposal involves adding "kill switch" software to smartphones to render them useless when stolen. But the CTIA, an industry trade group representing mobile carriers, has refused to comply with the request and insists more danger than good would come of it.

From a consumer's point of view, it seems simple. If smartphones are so likely to become stolen, then shouldn't they come equipped with a permanently disabling "kill switch" that renders them useless if they fall into the wrong hands? Mobile carriers say there are big risks to doing that.