Chennai: Even burglars are keeping up with the times. According to the city police, the preference of petty criminals have changed a lot in the recent past. Police officials believe that pickpockets and small-time burglars have shifted focus from gold and jewels to mobile phones, to see quick money.

“And a major number of offenders who practice this are juveniles. These boys who get misdirected into this field try their hand at robbing flashy smart phones and not gold ornaments,” says a police official. No matter how much high the value of gold reaches, smart phones have become the choice of these young offenders, police say.

“Stealing phones involves fewer risks as they can be sold easily,” the official explains. “If they rob a chain or any other jewel, the boys need to find a trustworthy pawn shop to sell his loot. And even if some pawn shops accept to buy stolen items, they do not trust every other robber who turns up with the loot,” he adds. So, the miscreants predominantly go for smart phones which find easy buyers in the market.

“For instance, take Burma Bazaar. A Rs 10,000 worth phone sells for a cool Rs 2,000. There are men ready to buy stolen gadgets not worrying too much about who sells it,” the official says. This change in trend also gives a headache to the police department, as tracing a cell phone is not as easy as recovering gold. Police officials say that the IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number, which is used to trace a lost mobile phone, is changed immediately after being sold in the grey market.

“It becomes very tough to trace the mobile phone once the IMEI number is changed. And we notice that not many worry much about their lost phones like losing jewels or money. People block their SIM numbers a n d go on to buy a new mobile without registering any complaint,” the police official says.

“It encourages the thieves further,” he explains. But it is not the only hitch in police investigating stolen items. ‘The age of the thieves is another great obstacle before us,” the official points out.

“Since many of these offenders are juveniles, we cannot grill them like we do the adults,” the official says.

“There was a case when a juvenile committed a petty crime. He was very stubborn and so our men had to use a little force to make him speak. But the boy complained at the magistrate court making things worse for us. They use their age as an advantage and continue with their criminal activities,” the official recollects.