Police say a cell phone robbery at a Waterloo mall may have ties to organized crime.

At about 8:30 a.m. Monday, before Conestoga Mall opened for the day, a man entered the mall and attempted to break into locked cabinets at various cell phone company kiosks.

After two failed attempts in 15 minutes, the thief struck lucky.

“A third (kiosk) was entered, and in that location a number of electronics were taken,” said police spokesperson Olaf Heinzel.

Although new cell phones are equipped with security features which make them easier to trace if stolen, police say most phone thieves know where the blocks are and how to get around them.

“Once these phones are unlocked, they’re no longer bound to a service provider,” said Sgt. Eugene Silva.

After the phones are unlocked, all that’s left is to switch out the phone’s SIM card. Silva says police have arrested drug dealers with one cell phone and pockets full of SIM cards.

Mass cell phone theft is rarely a one-man operation. Normally, Silva says, it’s one person acting on behalf of a larger organization – and phones often shuffle between various organizations.

“You’ve got the smaller groups probably stealing the actual device themselves,” he said.

“That passes to another group which then unlocks the phone itself, (then) brings it over to another group who sells it off to the Internet or their distributors.”

Police say the robbery is not believed to be connected to robberies of cell phone stores in Brantford, Guelph and the Toronto area in which employees were ordered to the back of the store at gunpoint.

The suspect in the Waterloo heist is described as white and in his late 20s or early 30s with an average build. He had dark brown or black hair and was wearing a black jacket, white hoodie, dark pants and black shoes.

Anyone with information is asked to contact police at 519-653-7700 ext. 6399.