Cell phones latest target for crooks

Police say a quintet of Alabama teens was so intent on pinching high-end cell phones from Wal-Marts in metro Atlanta they turned to cross-dressing to disguise themselves.

Elsewhere, Gwinnett police reportedly found a haul of 70 cell phones and 47 accessories belonging to Boost Mobile in one Norcross man's apartment last week.

The handheld devices that have attracted headlines in Georgia lately as driver distractions are also prized loot for opportunistic thieves, even before they've been activated, authorities say. Thieves are selling cell phones as black market items on eBay and Craigslist, or through more sophisticated channels, at discounted prices, police say.

The most brazen example recently involves a Huntsville, Ala., theft ring whose quest for cell phones took them to Wal-Mart stores from Florida to Snellville, police say.

On the morning of July 25, the crew -- four men wearing wigs and dresses and a woman, ages 17 to 25 -- targeted a Wal-Mart on Ga. Highway 124. Two suspects distracted an employee while the others pried into a locked cabinet and pilfered 20 high-dollar phones, said Snellville police Detective K. Sebring.

Sebring said the crew is suspected in at least four similar thefts at metro Atlanta stores. All five were caught by police in Boaz, Ala., with most of the merchandise inside their vehicle, the men still gussied up in wigs and dresses, he said.

Alabama authorities told WHNT News 19 that the crew -- Montero Ford, 17, Trevor Baker, 18, Precious Humphrey, 19, Terrell Jolly, 21, and Jarquez Dancy, 23 -- had lifted $70,000 in cell phones from stores in Georgia, Alabama and Florida.

Sebring said all five are being held in Alabama for prosecution and will be extradited to Gwinnett.

More recently, Gwinnett police arrested Norcross resident James Nelson King on charges he had $7,600 worth of cell phones and accessories in his Graves Road apartment. King remains jailed without bond following his Aug. 24 arrest.

Gwinnett police spokesman Cpl. Brian Kelly said several possibilities exist for thieves looking to turn a profit on stolen handsets, including the black market.

"With the right technology, it may be possible for thieves to clone the stolen phones and steal service," Kelly said.

Other options might be to wipe the phones of internal signatures that show they are stolen or ship them for resale overseas, Kelly said.

Crooks prolific enough to wipe the phones of their identification likely have "resources" to liquidate the phones for them, he said.