"It’s time to give back," said the ex-thief. "I can’t ever repay these people that I took their phone. What I can do is help them and help everybody else out there keep their phones."
He now works with police and his identity is being withheld. Law enforcement helped arrange the exclusive interview with NBC 4 New York.
Police say iPhone and iPad thefts have soared in recent years as the devices have become more popular.
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The thief who spoke to NBC 4 New York says he has stolen more than 20 iPhones alone. He claims he never physically harmed his victims but acknowledged there was always the potential for violence, which is why he carefully selected his victims.
He would mostly target women, noting "the older the better."
When asked whether that was cowardly, he said "absolutely."
"That’s what a thief is," he added. "A thief is nothing but a coward. They look for the best opportunity, the least amount of risk."
He said all muggers have a favorite time and place to make their move. He favored after 5 p.m., and tended to strike in bookstore coffee shops.
"I noticed that people would leave their stuff. After you buy your coffee, they’d go get a book to read. And the time they would go get the book they would come back their wallet, their iPhone, everything’s missing," he said. "By the time you find out I’m already halfway to selling it, you know."
If he saw a BlackBerry, he wouldn't even bother.
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"I'd pass it up," he said. Not enough demand.
One of his personal rules is never get profiled. When asked if someone might notice him coming down the street for their phone, he said:
"Personally me I don’t think you’d see me coming. When I first started boosting I developed this theory -- if you look good enough, if you’re well dressed, the cameras at the store aren’t gonna follow you around and people are gonna look at you and pass you off. There’s a lot of times I would wear a suit just to boost."
He said crooks look for people who are distracted, and maybe holding their phones a little loosely.
"You are sitting there. You are entertained. You are not gripping your iPhone, you know. And it’s a split second ... My attention is focused on you. There is that split second you take your eyes off your phone. That’s when I strike,” he said.
His message to New Yorkers who don't want to become victims:
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"You gotta look both ways when you pull out your phone," he said.