updated 3/30/2005 10:16:25 PM ET 2005-03-31T03:16:25

Users of iPods have become a hit among pickpockets and bandits on city subways.

Reports of robberies in the subway system are up about 20 percent through mid-March — a spike police officials blame on the ubiquitous portable music player, which can retail for about $100 to $500.

"The common denominator are iPods," Paul Browne, the police department's chief spokesman said Tuesday. "They're expensive, extremely popular and easy to conceal after they're stolen."

In some cases, the pickpockets have lifted the iPods from unsuspecting straphangers, police said. In others, thieves — after spotting victims wearing the telltale white headphones — have snatched the devices and fled out train doors.

Similar robberies have increased in and around schools, Browne said. Police have responded by deploying roving teams of uniformed officers in areas where the iPod bandits are most active, he said.

The trend, which was first reported in the Daily News, has helped drive the average number of subway felonies up to about 10 a day, from roughly nine a day in 2004.

Browne stressed that serious subway crimes were still down compared to 1995-2000, when the daily average fluctuated between 12 and 17.

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