“Beware of pickpockets.” That’s the message from law enforcement officials in West Hollywood as more and more cases of stolen wallets and phones have been reported in recent weeks.

Matty Hendrickson has had his smart phone stolen twice in West Hollywood in recent months.

“I had my phone in my back pocket. I was just with my friends. One moment my phone is there, then I feel someone take my phone, and I turned around and I see this guy in a hoodie,” Hendrickson said.

Despite the anger and frustration, he’s one of the lucky ones. Most people don’t feel a thing and rarely get their cell phones or other valuables back.

“I bump into you. You think it’s just an accident, and it’s gone,” said Sgt. Joana Warren of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. “You think I just bumped into you.”

Warren says WeHo has a pickpocket problem that’s getting worse.

“From 2019, pre-COVID, until now, with everything reopening again, it has more than doubled,” Warren said. And the crime increase isn’t limited to just West Hollywood.

Bars, clubs and restaurants up and down the Santa Monica strip are dealing with a scourge of grand theft and are warning customers to mind their belongings.

A security guard named George who works at a popular club says he regularly sees suspicious people “eyeballing” possible easy targets.

“People have their phones in their back pocket and that’s how they get pickpocketed,” George said. The security guard also says the thieves are often working as part of a team to steal from unsuspecting marks.

Sgt. Warren says that’s exactly what happens.

“They go in there, they steal the phones, they come right back out and pass the phones to two or three other people,” Warren said. “It’s very organized. They do it quickly, they do a lot of it, and then they go home for the night with up to 20 – some nights we’ve seen 40 – cell phones.”

And if your phone case is your wallet, it’s an even bigger nightmare.

“Now they have their driver’s license, they know where they live, they have their debit card,” Warren added.

She says if your phone is stolen, do not click on any links the thieves might send you, even if they are threatening to share your personal information.

“Once you click on the link, it’s almost like a phishing scam. Once you give them your username and password, they will be able to access anything that’s on that phone unless you have already wiped it out.

Warren compares it to extortion and says thieves will often threaten to either wipe all of the precious memories on your phone, or release sensitive information to anyone and everyone.

With cell phones a permanent fixture in everyday life, authorities say you have to keep a close eye on your belongings, and always keep the phone where you can see or feel it.

“Just remember to keep the phone in your hand,” Warren said. “Not on your person, but in your hands.”