Report offers inside look at undercover police operation to disrupt stolen iPhone trade

By , Apr 29, 2013

handcuffs stolen iphone

Earlier this year, it was reported that mobile phone thefts had climbed to 300 per day in London, with the iPhone accounting for over half of them. And we’ve heard similar numbers here Stateside, in major cities like New York and Chicago.

But police forces are beginning to fight back, setting up undercover units to try and disrupt the stolen smartphone trade. And a new report out this weekend offers an inside look at such an operation by the San Francisco Police Department…

As part of its “iTheft” series, The Huffington Post (via The Loop) published a new feature on Friday that offers up an inside look at how the San Francisco Police Department is working to dismantle a local ring of stolen iPhone sellers.

“The man in the hoodie is indeed a policeman: Officer Tom Lee is playing the role of decoy in a sting operation targeting buyers of stolen iPhones. Beneath his sweatshirt, he wears a small recording device taped to his chest. Lee approaches a heavy-set man standing outside the red awning of a Carl’s Jr. burger restaurant. The man wears glasses and a black pinstripe suit. He inspects the iPhone and offers $100.

Lee takes the cash, hands over the phone and gives the signal. Four officers swoop in and place the man in handcuffs, notching another arrest in the intensifying cat-and-mouse game playing out here and in other major American cities between law enforcement and criminals looking to profit from the burgeoning trade in stolen mobile devices.”

This operation was just one of many set up by the SFPD, and apparently facilitated by Apple. The report says the Cupertino company, who is headquartered just 40 miles to the north, actually supplies the undercover unit with iPhones to use in stings like this.

It’s odd to think that a police department would devote so much of its time and resources to track down a few iPhone thieves, but as noted above, it’s becoming a significant problem in many cities. San Francisco Police Captain Joe Garrity says it’s easy money.

“Everybody is distracted,” says Garrity, struck by the vulnerability of pedestrians who carelessly hold their gadgets. “Shit, I could grab that phone, take off running and no one would catch me, then run down to Seventh and Market and sell it.”

Of course, Apple itself could do something in future iPhones that would help prevent future thefts: build in that fingerprint scanner that everyone keeps talking about. Imagine not being able to reboot or restore the handset without the owner’s fingerprint.

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  • Bob

    So let me get this straight, instead of looking for the actual criminals, the police are targeting working class people who are looking to get a cheap iPhone as they wouldn’t be able to afford a brand new one? Oink Oink. The “decoy” also didn’t state that the phone was stolen so I’d love to see the “suspect” get charged with anything, as it could be argued the phone was bought in good faith, despite the low price, as not everyone is familiar with retail pricing.

    • http://twitter.com/patrickw1995 Patrick

      ok so this these people that steal people’s hard earned phones are not real criminals in your opinion??, seriously dude

    • J M

      A critical piece that was missed in this article which changes the story (and is indeed in the huffington article) is that each person is informed PRIOR to making an offer that the phone is a stolen item.

      This is simply a fact of the police catching someone who is KNOWINGLY purchasing stolen property.

      • felixtaf

        Isnt it tempting a poor man to buy an iPhone for cheap? Yes it is against law, but they have to catch the sellers of stolen phones first…

      • iDon’tWantToShareMyDetails

        Uhm you’re actually assiting the thief if you don’t report the stolen item and you know it is stolen. More to the point who are those poor people? iPhone’s are not ment to be cheap $20 Nokia’s. If you want an iPhone you’ll have to buy it second hand or lease it, not buy a stolen one. If you can’t afford it – you shouldn’t have it.

      • felixtaf

        Am not saying that buying a stolen phone s legal. But this is mere tempting by police on innocent people. If a guy s saving money to buya new phone and someone offering it for 100$, he will buy it. We are all humans, we are all tempted. Instead, police can concentrate on stolen phone sellers!!!

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jude-Palermo/100002164977772 Jude Palermo

      No, they are targeting the actual thieves. They are the criminals. They steal these devices That range in price of 500-1000 dollars. Helll yes, get those scum bastards who steal our phones. Expensive ass phones at that

    • iospixel

      Idd. What a joke. Tackle the root of the problem and stop playing dress up. The resources invested in this scheme would be better spent with police on the street preventing the muggings to begin with.

  • Adam

    Bullshit just track IEMI numbers and done no more stolen phones

    • iospixel

      This is attempted. But a lot of carriers don’t carry lists across continents. Hence a stolen mobile in Europe still has value in Africa.

    • Gorgonphone

      they are doing that now..

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1227800164 Copper Flow

    The topic of this article should have been To catch an “iPhone Predator” lol

    • Alex Rodriguez

      Lmao !!

  • Boss

    Easy just carry a gun