A rash of iPhone thefts has hit downtown L.A. this year, the LAPD says.

The crooks could be taking advantage of what could be perceived as a security flaw in the new iPhone 4s: It has an easily accessible SIM card slot on its right side (the iPhone 4 does not): Its card can be tossed, rendering the phone un-trackable (and possibly allowing the thief to use another SIM card to make calls).

If cellphone snatching continues at the same rate it has for the first quarter of 2012 it will go up 144 percent by the end of this year, says LAPD Lt. Paul Vernon:

It made us ask, what's going on? We think the reason is the iPhone and the similar smart-type phones are becoming more prevalent. A crook can snatch an iPhone, replace the SIM card with one from a pay-as-you-go phone, and have a brand new, latest-generation phone for himself.

Cops aren't the highest tech people around. But hot-dang-it, he's right. The LAPD states:

On newer phones, changing the SIM card is like changing the service, and if a pay-as-you-go SIM is put in the phone, there is no record of the user with a service provider.

Vernon has a conspiracy theory about this:

The phone companies don't really care about this flaw because if the phone gets stolen, the victim will buy another phone, and crook will keep using the one he stole.

Skid Row, it appears, is the Bermuda Triangle for cellphones: 54 have disappeared there in the first quarter of this year, the LAPD says.

View Larger Map

Another hotspot:

The Fashion District, which has seen 10 cellphone thefts in the first quarter versus 27 for all of last year.

Fifth Street and Broadway? 7 phones in the first quarter versus 13 last year.

Cops say cellphones are the number two most removed item in robberies, burglaries and thefts in 2011. They were beat out only by the almighty dollar.

The most common places to get your iPhone ganked: Restaurant tables, libraries, and nightclubs, says the LAPD.

So don't text and walk, put your phone on the table, or lend it to a stranger, they warn. And if you have an iPhone 4s, keep your eye on it, or it will vanish.

[@dennisjromero / djromero@laweekly.com / @LAWeeklyNews]

LA Weekly