Mobile Phones have become the heart of our social existence. They pump out the blood of our personal, business and financial lives.

Yet we often treat them as toys, playing games with them for hours, texting, and having deep discussions while we walk down dark alleys. Then bang, the burglars pounce.

When the phone disappears, what do you lose?

The question arose because a friend’s phone was stolen in broad daylight. These ‘snatch thefts’ are becoming more and more common. Last autumn three women were targeted by a group of young men in the space of three days. On Saturday, October 25, a 29-year-old woman was walking along Friars Wharf using her black iPhone 4S. Although this is a residential area it can be slightly unsafe at times. Four young lads on bicycles rode past the woman. One was clearly very efficient at mobile phone thefts and reached down and snatched the phone out of her hand.

At 8.50pm on the same date, a 21-year-old woman was walking down Hollywell Street away from the town centre, texting on her black iPhone 4S. Three men on bicycles approached her from behind. One of them reached out and whipped the phone from her hand. They then cycled away in the direction of Longwall Street. Once again this is a residential area. The victim reported to the police that the man who snatched her phone was white, 17 to 25 years old, quite tall, of slim build and with short, possibly blond hair. He was wearing dark clothing and a baseball cap. This is the kind of description that could fit thousands of people.

At 5.30pm on Tuesday, October 28, a 47-year-old woman was waiting at the bus stop opposite Magdalen College School at The Plain. She was intending to catch a bus in the direction of Rose Hill, and was texting on her Nokia E5 mobile phone while she was waiting in the queue. A group of three men on bicycles were cycling nearby, and one of them snatched the phone from her hand. The lads then cycled away towards the centre of Oxford.

The police are linking these three offences. Pc Helen Burns, who is investigating, said “This series of opportunistic offences highlights the need for people to be vigilant, keep their personal possessions out of view, and not have their mobile phones out on display.”

But even if your mobile is out of sight, you are not out of harm’s way.

I was having lunch at The Lamb and Flag in St Giles with a local vicar a few weeks ago. Her father had a heart problem and was taken to the John Radcliffe Hospital. After checking her text messages she left the lunch early at 2pm to visit her father at the JR.

As soon as she walked out of the pub door onto the sunny and busy footpath of St Giles, two young men walked up to her. They appeared to be from an Eastern European country, very excited, waving their arms about and scratching their heads. They pointed at several buildings around the pub and asked her repeatedly in broken English “Where is the university? Is it that building or this one? Where exactly is Oxford University?”

The vicar was in a hurry to get to her father in the heart unit, but she took the time to help these two young men and began to explain that Oxford University was dispersed around the city of Oxford. So they turned her in the direction of Carfax and asked her to show them exactly where they should go.

She quietly gave them some suggestions and pointers to the Sheldonian Theatre and the Radcliffe Camera and then excused herself. Half an hour later she discovered her mobile was missing and came back to the pub to ask us if she had left it at the table. It wasn’t there.

Finally the penny dropped. These two con artists who accosted her outside the pub were so professional she didn’t even realise at the time that they had stolen her phone after she had put it away. This was in central Oxford, in broad daylight and in the middle of a busy street.

When these young hoodlums, mostly male, steal the phones of mostly women, they get more than a piece of hardware. They could get your identity.

Nowadays many people have a great deal of personal information on their mobiles, like all their emails. They may do their banking on the phone which could be of interest to the thief. But even if you have a lock on the data and much of it is no use to a third party, you’ve lost all your contacts with that long list of friend’s telephone and email details, and those pictures of your children just after they were born or the last birthday celebrations of your parents.

When people are in their own personal bubble with the mobile to their ear and laughing at a joke or shouting during an argument, they could be walking targets.

The mobile is a valuable item because even if the thieves can’t get your information they can re-programme it to the condition it was before you bought it and sell it. They then have a nice little earner and you may have a big bill because you still have to pay your provider the rental and expenses on the unused term of your contract. These thieves can bleed you dry.