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Pokemon Go players robbed in Baltimore County while playing game

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Posted at 1:46 PM, Jul 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-13 06:10:13-04

It's a smartphone scavenger hunt.  Pokémon Go has players scouring neighborhoods in search of Pokémon characters to capture and train.

"I think a lot of people our age with phones grew up with Pokémon, and we just dreamed of like being in a world where we can throw them and catch them, and now we sort of can with smartphones,” said Jake Block.

The free game takes users to prominent local landmarks, represented in the app as Pokéstops, where you gather supplies like the red and white Pokéballs used to capture the creatures.         

Pokémon go uses your phone's GPS and camera to populate the world around you with Pokémon.  But it turns out, people are catching problems along with Pikachu.

"The three victims were playing Pokémon Go on their cell phones," said Baltimore County Police Corporal John Wachter.

The game was released last Wednesday.  Hours later, just after midnight, Baltimore County Police say the trio of Parkville teens were robbed.  In the game, a spot on Jasper Lane near the entrance to Belmont Park is a Pokéstop.  Police say when the teens got there, that's when the crime happened.

"They were approached by two suspects,” Wachter said.  “And the suspects demanded property and then displayed a handgun."

The crooks got away with three cell phones and some cash.

"That is scary, I’ve never seen anything negative occurring in the park in my experiences here,” neighbor Jeffrey Greenebaum said.  “I’ve been here six years, but it brings home how quickly things can change."

Right now, investigators aren't clear about how big of a role Pokémon Go played in the robbery.         

"While these people were robbed while playing the game, we don't know if that was the cause, we don't know if they were targeted specifically for playing the game,” said Wachter.  “However, that's something we're going to look into."

There's a warning on the screen as soon as the game opens “Remember to be alert at all times.  Stay aware of your surroundings.”

However, its advice all users aren't taking seriously.   

"There is a lot of safety issues, that I have to admit,” Thy Nguyen said.

The game commands your attention while you search the area.  Local authorities are now weighing in to remind players to be safe, saying to stay in well-lit areas, avoid private property, and don't play while driving.

"I feel like you should always have a friend or two, always be in a group of people playing this game, not walking around by yourself because I think it's just better that way,” said Brevon Liberto.

ABC 2 News checked in with local hospitals and police departments across the area.  So far, there have not been any other Pokémon Go related injuries or crimes.

The Baltimore County criminals are still on the run. 

Anyone with information on this incident is asked to call police at 410-307-2020 or Metro Crime Stoppers at 1-866-7LOCKUP. People can also send tips to Metro Crime Stoppers by text. Text "MCS" plus your message to "CRIMES" (274637).

Similar incidents have been reported since the release of the game last week. 

RELATED: Pokemon Go puts players in unexpected, sometimes dangerous situations
 
The Baltimore County Police Department offers the following advice to people who play Pokemon Go or any similar game.

  • Do not go anywhere alone. Always take a friend.
  • Do not go to any secluded area.
  • Stay in well-lit areas at night.
  • If you follow the game to an area that makes you uncomfortable, don’t continue.
  • Don’t play the game while driving.
  • Be aware of your surroundings while playing the game.
  • Playing the game does not grant the participant the right to enter onto private property. Participants should obtain the permission of the property owner before entering onto private property.
  • Report any suspicious persons, vehicles, or activity to police immediately.