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Trendy and easily manipulated, Sidekicks draw fans, thieves


BOSTON – Nisha Taylor was just about to put her beloved T-Mobile Sidekick in her bag. But in the few seconds it took for the 18-year-old to unwind the string loop that held the Sidekick to her wrist, someone else eyed the device and made off with it.

“He just runs and he hits the phone,” Taylor said. “The string pops. The phone goes up in the air. He catches it and he runs.”

Although the Sidekicks – which have flashy flip screens and the youthful cachet of endorsements by rapper Snoop Dogg and basketball star Dwyane Wade – aren’t among the country’s best-selling phones, they might be the most stolen ones.

Boston police reported more than 300 stolen Sidekicks in 2008. New York City saw a 59 percent surge in subway robberies in December compared with the previous year, driven largely by thieves targeting high-end cell phones, especially the Sidekick. And Adrian Portlock, whose company tracks stolen cell phones, ranks the phone among the most-taken worldwide, even though the Sidekick’s primary market is the United States.

Thieves target Sidekicks because of their urban hipness quotient – and because they’re easy to resell. All T-Mobile phones use a Subscriber Identity Module card, a computer chip that holds the owner’s personal information, such as account data and phone contacts. SIM cards are convenient for cell phone users because to switch to a new device, they simply pop out the chips and put them into another phone that employs the same technology. All the consumer’s saved information moves to the new phone. But the reverse also is true: By removing a SIM card, a thief can quickly and cleanly erase the owner from the phone. And crafty thieves have learned how to manipulate the Sidekick so it can be used on other networks that also use SIM cards.

Once a Sidekick is unlocked, thieves often scratch out the phone’s identification number and sell the device online. “They have the maximum ability to turn them into cash,” Portlock said. “It’s that young market – Internet-savvy, trend-driven market – where they’ll buy a used cell phone, no questions asked.”

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