Police urge Pokemon Go users to be aware of real-life surroundings

A string of armed robberies targeted players of the Pokemon Go smartphone game, according to Missouri police. Experts say there are simple strategies to stay safe while playing. 

Richard Vogel/AP
Pokemon Go, shown here displayed on a cell phone on Friday, is the top grossing-game in the iTunes store. Safety incidents have made the news in the past couple days, but experts say there are recommended ways to stay safe.

A number of players of the new "augmented reality" game Pokemon Go have gotten injured while hunting the digital creatures, and robbers in Missouri even have targeted players of the game. However, experts say following some simple safety tips can allow for fun and safe play of the popular game. 

Four teens in O'Fallon, Mo., committed robberies after staking out locations they knew would attract players of the game, police told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The teens are accused of almost a dozen armed robberies, including some victims who were playing the game.

In the game, the newest creation of the $1.5 billion per year franchise, players need to go to real-life public locations to capture Pokemon characters, whose images spring up on their smartphone screens as players scan their surroundings. Local landmarks serve as "Pokestops," where players can find virtual supplies used to capture and develop their Pokemon for eventual battle.

The game, released last week, is now the most popular in the iTunes store. It has been praised for encouraging interaction between users and promoting exercise for those players willing to walk long distances to capture Pokemon. Nintendo, which owns 33 percent of the Pokemon company and has shares in the game's creator Niantic, saw shares jump 10 percent overnight following the game's July 6 release, as Reuters reported. 

In Missouri, the alleged robbers picked out secluded locations that would draw players of the game, O'Fallon police said.

The game has also been tied to real-life injuries, mostly twisted ankles and bruised shins, of players who were not paying attention to where they were walking as they chased the characters.

"People really need to watch what they're doing and make sure their kids understand where this game could lead them," O'Fallon Police Sgt. Phil Hardin told the Post-Dispatch. "Our concern is that some of the way points in this game are in geographically more dangerous areas than others. Other people are using the machinations of all this to put people in danger."

Mike Schultz, a 21-year-old in Long Island, New York, fell off his skateboard and cut his hand while looking at his phone for Pokemon, he told the Associated Press. 

"I just wanted to be able to stop quickly if there were any Pokemons nearby to catch," he said, adding he didn't think Niantic, the game's creator, was responsible. 

John Hanke, chief executive officer for Niantic, told Business Insider that the game was designed with safety in mind. Once a Pokemon appears on a user's screen, they do not have to move to capture it. If Pokemon appear in a dangerous location, for instance, in the middle of a busy roadway, players do not have to put themselves into a dangerous location to capture it.

"That was a very deliberate choice," Mr. Hanke told Business Insider. He also encouraged players to be alert to their surroundings while playing the game. 

There are a variety of ways to ensure players of the game, especially children, stay safe, the Philadelphia Police Department told local news station NBC10. Parents should talk about the dangers of meeting strangers with their kids, and limit where they can go to capture Pokemon in order to keep an eye on them. It's also important to pay attention to one's surroundings, Philadelphia Police spokesman Eric Gripp told NBC10. 

"I've already seen a number of people – both kids and adults – so engrossed while staring at their phones and following a map, that they've walked right into the street and into objects," he said. "Pay attention!

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