Police suspect that gangs or organized crime are behind a recent rash of smartphone heists in Metro Vancouver.
And the incidents could be linked to similar crimes committed in Richmond last year.
Rogers Wireless employee Arshia Aryan, 21, was pepper-sprayed in the face Saturday by one of a "very professional" group of four thieves who burst into the store in the 1400-block Lonsdale in North Vancouver.
"We had already locked the door because my co-worker was worried about four guys that he saw checking out the store earlier. But after the last customer left, these four guys came busting in," said Aryan.
Aryan said the thieves, all wearing hoodies and bandanas across their faces, had a gun and threatened to kill co-worker Mehrdad Sarjough-ian if he didn't get phones out of the store safe.
"They were in and out in five minutes, business-like, very professional and they told my co-worker, 'If you don't open the safe, I'll kill you,'" a shaken Aryan told The Province on Monday.
"They got us to handle the phones and didn't leave their prints any-where."
Aryan said the thieves only went after iPhones, BlackBerrys and Androids.
"They knew just what they wanted and didn't touch any of the crappy little phones. They wanted only smartphones to resell at $700 apiece somewhere."
Aryan said he didn't resist, but was in shock and didn't quickly comply.
"Right before they left, the black guy walked up to me and three inches from my face, blasted me right in the face with bear spray," said Aryan.
"It was the worst pain I've ever felt in my life - my face, neck, my chest. I was blinded and screaming in pain, but I ran outside after them to scream, 'Thief!'"
Police are warning consumers to be careful not to buy a stolen phone.
"We think this robbery may be associated to others in Coquitlam and Richmond," said North Vancouver RCMP Cpl. Richard DeJong.
He said police fear that "a gang, or organized crime, is involved" in selling stolen smartphones in the U.S., overseas and to local customers.
Rogers Wireless store co-owner Alex Meghjiani said the thieves stole 28 smartphones worth about $25,000. He said he was out of the country and the store's surveillance videocam wasn't working.