If you’ve ever taken a broken iPhone back to an Apple Store for repair or replacement, then you’ll be well aware at just how easy the company makes it. You take your iPhone in, Apple checks its warranty by referencing its serial number and you walk out with a replacement.

But that “customer comes first” approach may also be making it easier for thieves to chop in stolen iPhones and then receive a replacement free of charge. While that may seem pointless initially, when you remember that stolen handsets can be blocked from carriers based on their IMEI number, then the whole thing makes a lot of sense.

The revelation that Apple may be unwittingly exchanging stolen goods comes via security firm McAfee, which blames Apple’s “honor system” for giving thieves an easy way to get rid of hot goods…

The ease of trading in stolen iPhones and selling their replacements makes them nearly as tempting as grabbing cash. In cities from coast-to-coast, reports of iPhone thefts are common. While some thieves sell the phones through the traditional channels of fencing stolen goods, examples abound of stolen iPhones being brought back to Apple, as if broken, for either replacement or a discount on a new unit. ”Apple seems to have not considered stolen devices and instead is relying on the honor system,” says Robert Siciliano, a consultant for Intel Corp’s technology security unit McAfee and an identity theft expert. “The honor system is devised with the mindset that we are all sheep and there are no wolves.” Siciliano says he has known of this problem for a while, but doesn’t see any immediate solution.”

The aim of the game is a simple one: take in an iPhone before it gets blocked from working on a carrier, and then receive a new one which never will be. Simple.

While McAffee’s Robert Siciliano is crying out for Apple to fix this potential issue, we can’t help but think that the only outcome here is that we, honest customers, get affected. How long before Apple starts requiring receipts for such warranty replacements? While not exactly a great hardship, such a requirement would take some of the shine off Apple’s biggest selling point – its excellent customer service.


  • I’d make Apple prove you are the owner, just showing you ID card or something like that. If a friend or family wants to bring in the iPhone for a replacement, they’d have to show a copy of your ID card.

    That wouldn’t take that much time, would it?

    • What if the phone was a gift?How would you prove ownership? Who’s ID would you show? Or if someone found the phone. Finders keepers. Apple’s policy I think it’s great. How is apple lossing out if there getting the merchandise back and reselling it. People should think about insurance for their phone if it’s stolen.

      • Kok Hean

        By including “ownership cards” in the boxes.

      • What do you mean ownership cards.. No way Jose. Someone also pointed it out about someone saleing the phone. There Is no way of telling.

      • I agree Apple’s Policy gives the costumer freedom, but giving the costumer the possibility to register the product, would avoid situations like these.
        Anyway, I hope someone figures something out, and people who has been stolen can get his iPhone back.

  • id cards cost money and i dont like the idea of having id for anything we are controlled by systems enough as it is

  • A partial solution could be registration. If you register your product you might be protected. Aside, I am sure all iPhones phone home. After you register your product you could report it stolen directly to Apple and they have a way of retrieving the phone back to its source if this need arises.
    All like domain names…
    Whoever the new owner is, if the phone is stolen, even if he bought it, it doesn’t belong to him.

    • OK, so who’s going to give the money back to the person in a situation like this?

  • Anonymous

    “While McAffee’s Robert Siciliano is crying out…”
    Robert Siciliano LOL!
    What a name for a security researcher…

  • but what about if you sell your iphone to another person to get new model? that’s a hard thing to fix

  • Anonymous

    Most carriers I know never block stolen imeis. What would be the point in blocking them, they can be used to generate more income for the company by being activated with a plan vs blocking it and now the company can’t make a cent off it.

  • And what if someone uses the find my phone app and it turns up in a Apple store..handling stolen goods..not good

    • If you lose your phone, the battery runs out, and then the phone’s found by someone, say bye bye to your phone because Find My iPhone is a useless piece of crap if the phone isn’t on, or the SIM card was taken out.

      • And what if no of them things happen ..it’s all what if…your so negative aren’t you..

  • Jon Garrett

    Im sure that 99% of returns are legit, only a tiny number are “stolen” so apple should leave things just as they are.