Tips to prevent CTA phone thefts

CTA Tattler reader Celeste remind riders to be watchful and smart about smartphones. Here is her story:

I thought I would send you a tip (and get an upsetting experience off my chest!). I was coming up the side staircase to the Ashland Green line stop, when I noticed a teenage boy coming up fast behind me who had been across the street just a moment before. I tried to quickly swipe my Ventra card and go through the turnstile but the gate didn't budge (darn Ventra glitches!).

The guy was right behind me at that point, trying to jump through the turnstile behind me? Anyway I backed up and told him to go ahead of me. He blankly stared at me with his hands in his pockets and just kept asking me "do you know what time it is? Do you have your phone?"

With my cell phone zipped up in my bag, I simply told him "it's almost 8." I asked him to scan his pass so I could go through, since he was blocking me from the gate, but he wouldn't move. When he started moving his right hand in his pocket like he had something (I'm saying something because even his fist was enough to make me run), I started shouting for him to leave me alone and he finally backed down. I quickly swiped my card and bolted through the gate to report it to the CTA rep.

I could have run down the stairs but I was scared he could have had friends around waiting on the street.

Anyway just a tip to your readers, NEVER take your phone out even if someone is asking for a favor, unless you feel 100% safe in your surroundings.

Thanks for writing Celeste!


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  • Aside from this instantly drawing spam...

    ...The answer to his first question has always been "yes."

    I suppose that the answer to the second is "no."

    I also mentioned the risk of sticking a wallet or a bank card on the Ventra reader, and it wasn't just CTA stealing from you.

  • This is not transit related, but I think there must be some high profile arrests and penalties to deter these. I work for the phone company and have had nearly 100 technicians mostly in the Douglas Park area, robbed of their I-pad and I-phones used for work. Some have been threatened with a weapon, some have been robbed, too, of personal items. They know these techs have the items and they just come up and demand them. There must be a vast network of people assisting this criminal endeavor. It's east to pass many electronics stores in the city, boldly announcing in their window, "Unlock any Apple Device" or similar promises. We can take steps to minimize the opportunity for theft, but we can only do so much as far as prevention. Fair Play to you, Celeste for calling your potential attacker's bluff, with a simple, polite question.

  • In reply to oconnorm:

    Since it has been publicized that iPhones have gps and "find me" apps, I'm surprised that this hasn't deterred the robbers and fences.

  • Celeste was listening to her radar. That's always a good idea. Predators count on manipulating you into letting down your defenses for fear of not being "nice" or making a scene. Sometimes this is done verbally. They will also move in close to you when they have no right. Any time someone gets in my blind spot on a sidewalk or gets up close behind me or next to me, I do an extra check that my bag is secure. I don't care what people who are up to no good think of me. And honest people should understand caution when exposed in public spaces. I am sorry that Celeste still feels upset (presumably, at this point, from outrage that people would try to take advantage like that rather than any shame at following her correct instincts) and I thank her for sharing.

    Some public systems don't really help the situation. I never understood how it enhances one's security to have to pull out one's wallet on a street at night and get out an ATM card for access to the secure lobby. Similarly, the CTA's expectation that twice a day we will pull out our wallet, remove the card, swipe it, replace it in the wallet and put the wallet back without mishaps is something not to be simply accepted. I recommend everyone brainstorm practical ways to keep their Ventra card handy and separate from other items they wish to keep safe from thieves.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    Company IDs are usually on lanyards. Other than having to search for one more thing in one's pocket or purse, I don't see why a Ventra card can't be kept in its own card holder.

  • I was on a train a long time ago and some guy was asking people if he could borrow their phones to call the CTA because he thought he'd left his on a different train. No one was willing to help him. I felt bad for him, but not bad enough to let some stranger use my phone.

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    I had a guy try the "what time is it" scam. I gripped my phone as tight as possible, he says to me, "I am not trying to steal your phone." I looked at him like he was a damn fool. For him to say that lets me know what his intentions were.

  • In reply to Ebony Daley:

    Lying is what liars do! Besides trying to convince you you're crazy.

  • How many people keep their Ventra card in a wallet? I'm asking because I don't. I don't pull my wallet out in public--not on the street anyway. I always make sure it's back in my purse when I leave a store too.

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    The way I figure it, I've paid for that last 10 seconds at the cash register that it takes to put credit card or change back in my wallet, button it up, put it in my bag and make sure it's zipped before I grab my purchases and exit. I won't take all day about it because I know the next person in line wants to step up, but I won't be rushed out into the street with valuables exposed, either, just because they're done with me.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    I will walk away from the register but I don't walk outside with my wallet still out.

  • Alot of criminals will scope out the people who are disabled because they know they can't chase them. That happened a few weeks ago on the green line, a hot spot for thefts. Sure enough the victim was an older lady alone with a limp.

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