YOUNGSTERS engrossed in social networking sites on their mobile phones are leaving themselves wide open to muggers, according to police.

Now officers are warning teenagers to be on their guard when using their phones, MP3 players and other gadgets on the streets of Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale.

It is part of Operation Phone-Safe, a major and high-profile crackdown on street robberies in the three boroughs.

Detective Sergeant Andy Ashworth, of Rossendale CID, devised the campaign after he noticed an increase in youngsters providing muggers an opportunity to strike.

He said: “I do a lot of jogging around Burnley and what I am finding is that young people are walking around with their mobile phones in their hands, looking on the internet, and they do not even notice me coming towards them until I’ve actually passed them.

“They are so engrossed in Twitter or Facebook or whatever on their mobile phones that it would be easy for me to just take it out of their hands.

“We are saying to kids: ‘look, be aware of who is watching you and what is going on around you’.”

As part of the crackdown, officers who train new police recruits how to be aware of what is going on around them will go into schools and teach children the same skills.

Officers from the Multi Agency Problem Solving (MAPS) team will advise pupils on personal safety and offer to mark their valuable items during lunchtimes.

In addition, Bluetooth technology will be used to send out important personal safety messages to the youngsters.

Police will also step up patrols in ‘hot spot’ areas and will carry out proactive investigations to identify and arrest offenders.

And those officers will be on hand to mark youngsters’ equipment such as mobile phones and MP3 players.

Detective Chief Inspector Paul Withers, of Pennine Police, said the crackdown was being launched to coincide with the school holidays when more children would be on the streets.

Police said less than 100 street robberies occured in the three boroughs every year Sixty four per cent of those offences involve mobile phones or cash being stolen, but do not feature the use of weapons, officers said.