The iPod economy is booming in the UK, with four in ten Britons owning them (or other MP3 players) - and an increase in street crime as criminals try to join the owners club.

A survey shows that 40 per cent of Britons under 50 own an iPod or other MP3 player - and that they listen to them for three hours each day. On average, they have 1,548 tracks in their music collection.

Londons' yobs want these music players and mobile phones too - and they don't want to pay for them. The popularity of such devices has sparked a "sharp rise" in street crime in the capital, warned Metropolitan police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair.

The BBC reports Sir Blair's warning that the iPod's white earphone leads make it easy for tech-savvy street criminals to identify and target innocents with iPods, and as these products have a high street value there has been a 26.4 per cent climb in muggings since April 2004.

Speaking yesterday, the capital's top cop said that iPods: "Have different coloured leads, it is very obvious when someone is wearing an iPod. That is what is fuelling this."

Ten iPods were snatched by muggers in November, compared to 35 in April. So far in May, 52 have been snatched. And a worrying 395 iPods have been stolen from cars so far this month.

Macworld advises iPod users to invest in different coloured headphones.