Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Community members discuss emotional distress, challenges of phone theft at Austin bars

Jack Myer

Gracie Warhurst’s phone used to have on it a funny picture of her dad, who passed away in 2020. She remembers the picture well; he was at Whataburger after a football game holding up one of the numbered table tents after Warhurst told him that kids like to take the numbers. 

But after her phone was stolen on Sixth Street in 2023, that photo and other pictures of her dad were gone.

“I just don’t have any of that anymore,” said Warhurst, a UT graduate.

Sixth Street is a popular destination for UT students for Austin’s bar life. Developers announced plans in January to revitalize Dirty Sixth, a section of bars located on Sixth Street.

According to the Austin Police Department’s crime statistics, pick-pocketing incidents have been on the rise citywide since 2020. In total, there were 845 pick-pocketing incidents reported in 2023, but incidents did not exceed 700 in the three years prior.

The Austin Police Department could not respond for comment in time for publication.

Online reviewers write of pickpocketing and theft at Buford’s Backyard Beer Garden on West Sixth Street, where Warhurst’s phone was stolen. 

Buford’s management declined to comment.

“(I was wearing) a long strap purse,” Warhurst said. “It was on my shoulder the whole time.” 

After realizing her phone was gone, Warhurst immediately recruited people to turn on their phone flashlights and search the dance floor. 

She retraced her steps and asked nearby bargoers if they had seen her phone.

“No one had any answers,” Warhurst said. 

That was when the severity of her absent phone hit her. 

“The first thing I thought about was my dad who passed away in 2020,” she said. “All my pictures of my dad were on my phone, and I didn’t have it backed up to iCloud. It was only on the phone.” 

In addition to photos, Warhurst said she misses having her dad’s texts the most. 

“It’s the day-to-day stuff that fades the fastest when you lose someone,” she said. “The texts helped me remember what our normal life was like, and I can’t go back and experience that anymore.”

Knowing all the memories she had lost, Warhurst said she couldn’t help but get emotional after the theft. 

“I started crying in the club,” she said. 

Warhurst went to Buford’s staff and informed the bartender of her situation, but in asking if she had seen her phone, she said staff was dismissive. 

“It was a little bit unempathetic,” Warhurst said. “But at the same time, if I was doing that job, and that was happening every weekend, I probably would get desensitized to it.” 

Civil engineering junior Gabriella Rico remembers a less pleasant experience with Buford’s staff after her phone and wallet were stolen at the bar in January. Rico went up to say hello to some friends in the bar, and when she turned around, her phone and wallet were missing from her purse.

“(I thought), ‘Oh, my God, my phone just got stolen,’” Rico said. “I noticed immediately, but they turned the phone off immediately. The calls weren’t going through and the person who took it was probably still at Buford’s, but I had no way of finding them.”

Rico said she contacted her family through a friend’s phone on Instagram, got a new phone and eventually had to go back home to San Antonio to get a new credit card and ID. She also filed a police report, but it was quickly closed. 

“There’s nothing they can really do, especially with so many phones getting stolen,” Rico said.

Jess Van Dyke is a bar manager at Jack and Ginger’s Irish Pub in the Domain, and their job description includes managing customer relations. Van Dyke said they are aware of phone theft on West Sixth Street, as well as on East Sixth Street and Rainey Street.

“People are stealing everything,” Van Dyke said. “But I do know of the hotspot of stealing phones … A lot of people talk about it. It’s definitely prevalent.”

Van Dyke said that theft at bars is fairly common. Theft even happens occasionally at Jack and Ginger’s, but Van Dyke said it’s not as common there as other places they’ve heard about.

Van Dyke said sometimes phones may not actually be stolen, but lost accidentally. 

“We have a ton of phones in our office that just get left,” Van Dyke said. “(Jack and Ginger’s) have a really good record at getting people their phones back.”

Rico’s phone thief texted her pretending to be Apple support, she said, attempting to trick her into leaking her iCloud passwords. Soon after, those texts turned into threats. 

“‘Oh, we’re gonna steal your information,’” Rico said. “‘We’re downloading all your data right now, we’re gonna put it in the black market.’”

Warhurst also received text messages a couple months after her phone went missing. 

“They’re like, ‘Oh, we found your phone. If you want us to send it back to you, disconnect it from your (iCloud),’” Warhurst said. “I was like, obviously this is whoever stole my phone and I’m not going to respond.”

Similar to Rico, Warhurst’s messages escalated into threats, including a video of a man waving around a gun. Along with the video was a long paragraph threatening to hurt Warhurst if she didn’t give her iCloud password. 

Even though the messages were alarming, Warhurst said she didn’t fear for her safety.

“I didn’t feel threatened,” Warhurst said. She disconnected the phone from her iCloud devices and blocked the number.

Even though it was difficult to lose her phone and everything on it, Warhurst said she doesn’t blame the Buford’s staff too much for how they responded to her situation. 

“I think if anything, it would just be them turning a blind eye to it, ” she said. “They maybe see it and accept it as this just happens and don’t really try to stop it.’ Because it’s not their job or their business to do that.”

When Warhurst goes out now, she wears a purse that’s closer to her shoulder. And she refuses to return to Buford’s. 

Rico has since returned to the bar, but was incredibly cautious. Still, she said she questions returning there. 

“I don’t know if I should go back,” she said. 

At the end of the day, Van Dyke said it’s not a bar’s responsibility to manage customers’ lost property. 

“The fastest thing you can do is go on Find My iPhone and try to see where it is,” Van Dyke said. “If you want to make a police report, make a police report, but all you can do is contact your phone carrier, just get a new one.”

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