Four out of ten electronic devices reported stolen in the UK last year belonged to people living or working in London, a Freedom of Information analysis by security firm ViaSat UK has found.
In the year to February 2014, a total of 290,651 devices such as laptops, smartphones and tablets were reported stolen In the UK (including Scotland) on the basis of the 35 forces out of 46 that replied, with the area covered by the Metropolitan Police accounting for 42 percent or 122,938 of that number.
This was about a third of all forms of theft reported in London compared to average of 17 percent for the rest of the country, which on the face of its makes London residents twice as likely to suffer device theft as people in any other town or city.
For comparison, Greater Manchester Police had a device theft rate of 24 percent while for Liverpool it was 15 percent.
There are a few wrinkles in all of this. The metropolitan area of greater London has several million commuters on top of its 8.3 million residents, with the levels of contents insurance higher than many other areas of the UK. These factors and the possibility that Londoners simply own more devices to lose could explain why more people end up reporting thefts to the police.
As far as ViaSat could tell after contacting the police forces, these figures represent the number of devices lost as a result of a crime rather than simply mislaid or lost. Only 6 percent of the reported devices were by public sector or businesses, although this again probably reflects different reporting systems.
“As we live more and more of our lives electronically and online, so the amount of sensitive information held on electronic devices is increasing exponentially,” said ViaSat UK’s CEO, Chris McIntosh.
“From bank account details to health information and even personal secrets, our pictures, emails, texts and files can reveal a huge amount about us. As a result, having such a device stolen isn’t simply a loss in itself: it increasingly opens up the potential of much worse to follow.”
This is perhaps the real point – stolen electronic devices have grown into a major element of the UK theft statistics. It is impossible to say whether this issue is getting worse in absolute or relative to other types of theft but it is a supportable assumption that it must be. People in the UK own more of these portable devices than at any point in history so more are being stolen.
ViaSat did not request figures on the number of reported devices that were eventually recovered.
As to the value of any user data lying on these devices, the issue is hard to assess. The overwhelming majority of devices will have been stolen by petty thieves for their value as objects. In future, thieves might come to value to data almost as highly. Device owners will eventually fight back with more remote wiping, kill switches and device deactivation.