IT | Security

San Francisco Police Go Undercover to Stop iPhone Theft

By: Absolute Team | 5/2/2013

San Francisco Police are going undercover to reduce the theft of iPhones in the city. Undercover police officers are attempting to sell stolen iPhones (specifically telling buyers they are stolen), to reduce the black-market for these devices.

The San Francisco Police set up a special task force 3 years ago to combat phone thefts, mirroring similar undercover teams in other cities. Nearly half of San Francisco residents own an iPhone, higher than any city in the US, so the city sees a lot of illicit trade in stolen iPhones.

Police say stolen phones bought here are often resold overseas -- in part to avoid a domestic blacklist being established by American wireless carriers -- eventually fetching as much as $1,000 at markets scattered from Hong Kong to Rio de Janeiro.

Nearly half of all robberies in San Francisco are related to smartphones, many of which can be traced to a specific corner in the city for resale. The undercover team at first aimed to catch people stealing phones but the focus has since shifted to shutting down the resale marketplace.

The task force is pursuing a new strategy: arresting buyers. The team aims to poison the market with fear and distrust, depriving would-be sellers of a place to unload their stolen merchandise.

There are some who have questioned the operation, noting that mobile phone thefts have not been reduced since the program was started. As we find with illegal drugs, the market continues to grow and expand; there's a reason mobile theft has been named an epidemic. The article on Huffington Post outlines how mobile theft has become more organized: that gangs of up to 10 members get together to buy and sell stolen phones. Some gangs are directly involved in the original theft while others will be just one element in the global distribution chain to get the stolen phones into overseas markets.

What do you think about the efficacy of undercover teams attempting to disrupt the stolen iPhone marketplace?