Children as young as nine are stealing mobile phones and hundreds of thefts are reported per day, according to police figures.
Thirty-three police forces in England, Scotland and Wales released data relating to stolen phones since 2010 and it shows that in the first eight months of this year, 264 mobile thefts were reported per day - up 7% on the previous year.
Hotspots included Hyde Park in central London, where 163 thefts were reported between May and August this year, and Greyfriars Road in Cardiff where 125 thefts were recorded so far in 2012.
According to the information, obtained by insurance company LV=, around 16,500 teenagers have been arrested for this type of crime in the past three years.
The Metropolitan Police said more than half of the culprits arrested in the capital were in their teens.
The youngest was in Leicestershire, at the age of nine, and officers from Scotland Yard and Suffolk both reported thieves as young as ten.
Only a tiny fraction of the phones were later recovered. Forces had dealt with 230,000 mobile phone thefts since 2010 but only recovered one per cent of the handsets.
Other areas with high levels of theft included Sheffield city centre with 1,309 thefts so far this year, Castle ward in Leicester where 742 were recorded, and Bristol city centre were there were 399.