PARKVILLE (WJZ)— All around Towson and other parts of our area, you can see groups of people with their cell phones out, looking for Pokemon characters.
Pokemon Go is a new augmented reality phone app that uses GPS to guide users to real-world landmarks for the purpose of collecting the digital cartoon creatures. It’s been downloaded by millions of people.
But police in Baltimore County say it’s all fun and games until someone becomes the target of a criminal taking advantage of the craze.
An element of the game called a beacon lures users to specific geographical areas, where they can find the “pocket monsters” and items they need to catch them. Three people were robbed when they were attracted to a spot in this way last week, according to police spokesman Cpl. John Wachter.
It happened on July 7, when the victims were directed to an area on Jasper Lane near an entrance to Belmont Park.
“They followed their phone to the spot where they were supposed to go, and that’s when they encountered the suspects,” Wachter says.
Police say the victims were approached by two men — one armed with a gun — who took the victims’ cell phones and money before fleeing the scene.
The victims were not injured in the incident, which is the first reported Pokemon Go-related crime in the Baltimore area.
Lisa Westervelt is one parent who’s trying to help her son stay safe while also having fun with the game.
“No matter what you do, somebody’s going to try and take advantage of it to commit a crime,” she says. “Just keep an eye out, do it during the daytime, not the nighttime, and stay together,” she says.
Police agree, and they have released these tips for gamers:
- Be Aware of Your Surroundings – If you’re out looking to add to your Pokédex, avoid secluded or unfamiliar areas, especially at night. Stay in well-lit, public areas where there are open businesses or other pedestrian traffic. If you enter an area that makes you feel uncomfortable, you should turn around and return to a more familiar place. As tempting as it may be to try and corner a Wild Snorlax, it’s important to remember that an in-game prize is not worth compromising your actual safety.
- Do Not Enter Private Property – All Pokémon within the game can be found without entering private property. While the map may indicate that a character is sitting on a neighbor’s porch or in someone’s backyard, you will always be able to interact with that character from a distance. The developers of the game made sure to program this feature for the safety of the players and with consideration for privacy. Additionally, all Pokéstops and Gyms (in-game locations for finding or “training” Pokémon) have been placed by the developers in public areas. You should never enter private property or enter a location after operating hours to attempt to access these game features.
- Report Suspicious Activity – If you see a suspicious person, vehicle, or activity, dial 911 immediately and report it to police. For non-emergency concerns you can reach the Baltimore County Police at 410-307-2020.
Anyone with any information is asked to call police at 410-307-2020.