MORE than 12,000 mobile phones have been stolen in Edinburgh in the last four years, with muggers as young as nine years old arrested for stealing the expensive devices.
New figures also showed a rising number of street muggings where victims were robbed of their phones, with 38 reported in the first four months of this year.
As well as muggings, thousands of phones have been stolen in break-ins to homes and cars, bag snatches and shop raids since 2008.
Police chiefs today urged owners to download tracking applications to their smartphones to allow stolen property to be traced.
The figures were revealed as a 21-year-old man was due to appear at Edinburgh Sheriff Court today charged with the assault and robbery of a 12-year-old boy whose phone was stolen on Craigmillar Road on Wednesday.
Last year, a ten-year-old, a 12-year-old and two 13-year-olds were charged with assault and robbery for attacking victims to get their phones. The previous year, a nine-year-old was arrested for the same offence.
Police said youngsters were often assaulting other children as a means to “upgrade” their own device.
Detective Chief Inspector Gary Cunningham said: “Offenders who steal phones sell them on for a fraction of what they are worth. Because of the huge turnover of phones in society, with everyone seeking to have the latest models, there is always a market for them.
“When young people steal phones they are usually acquiring it for themselves rather than looking to sell it on. They might see another young person with a newer phone, and steal it as an upgrade.
“Young people often have very expensive phones and that is why they need to take care. Parents who give their children phones should also talk to them about security.”
The popularity of smartphones, iPods and tablet computers is being blamed for a 16 per cent increase in robberies this year. The surge saw police launch Operation Arable in a bid to clamp down on street robberies, targeting hotspots for muggings and trying to raise safety awareness.
Thieves are taking advantage of users being distracted as they text and check social networking sites while on the move to steal their high-value, portable devices.
DCI Cunningham added: “We’re trying to raise awareness about phones, which are very expensive pieces of equipment nowadays, and keeping yourself safe while using them. When you are texting or looking at websites on a phone, you don’t know who is watching. People need to be aware of their surroundings when using a phone in public.
“We would encourage owners to download applications which can allow your phone to be tracked using GPS. We’ve already had successes in recovering phones when owners have this.”
Councillor Joanna Mowat, who represents the City Centre ward where around a third of all phones have been reported stolen in the Capital since 2008, said: “There has to be a sensible level of vigilance that people need to take regarding their phones.
“When you’re in a busy place, there is a greater chance of being the victim of an opportunistic theft. People just have to pay attention to try to lessen that chance.”