Latest tablet theft victim is just 2 years old

Crime comes as cellular carriers face pressure to apply technology to stop device theft

High-tech device theft has claimed its latest victim in San Francisco -- and he's just 2 years old.

On Thursday evening, thieves stole a tablet PC from the hands of a toddler while he was sitting in the back of a car in the city's Mission district.

The incident is the latest in a growing number of thefts that have targeted people using smartphones and tablet computers in San Francisco and across the U.S. The robberies are sometimes violent, involving a gun or knife, and cellphone carriers are coming under increasing pressure to come up with a technological solution that would render stolen handsets useless.

Lawmakers in California last week proposed a state law that would mandate a "kill switch" that would disable stolen phones, reducing their value and the incentive for theft, and Wednesday similar legislation was introduced in the U.S. Senate that would take effect nationally from 2015.

Thursday night's robbery began when a driver was parking his car in the 900 block of Capp Street. One suspect confronted the driver and told him he couldn't park where he had stopped. Simultaneously, a second suspect opened a passenger door of the car and took the tablet from the hands of the toddler, who was playing on it while sitting in the back seat, according to the police.

A fight followed when the driver jumped out of the car and tried to stop the theft but failed. He suffered a cut arm and both robbers fled the area. The child was unhurt.

"It's not very common for children to be victims of robbery," said San Francisco Police Department spokesman Officer Albie Esparza. "But saying that, criminals are opportunistic and will seize an opportunity to commit a crime."

The theft is reminiscent of one in the U.K. in 2012 that was caught on a clothing store's security camera.

In that incident, a man, later identified as a 72-year-old, approached a 20-month-old child who was sitting in a stroller watching cartoons while her mother shopped nearby. The man looked around for a few seconds, then reached down and took the iPhone out of the child's hands.

Police eventually caught up with the suspect, who pled guilty to a string of thefts and was jailed for 42 weeks, according to a local media report.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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