An average of 113 cell phones are lost every minute in the US, with Pew Research showing that 31% of cell phone owners have experienced a lost or stolen phone (the rate is 45% for the 18-24 group). Despite the creation of stolen phone databases in the US, mobile theft continues to grow unchecked. To borrow a phrase from the National Mobile Phone Crime Unit, mobile phones are C.R.A.V.E.D (concealable, removable, available, enjoyable and disposable), so they continue to attract theft.
There are many factors contributing to the ongoing growth of mobile theft crimes, particularly the ease and profitability of selling stolen devices to other markets for resale (particularly countries in Latin American, EMEA and Asia Pacific). Stolen phone registries are national, not international (though some countries may share data), so the stolen phone database has not decreased crime, simply changed the path of resale (and made recovery even more unlikely for consumers without mobile theft protection).
The National Mobile Phone Crime Unit in the UK has an article on What Happens to Stolen Phones, which mirrors what happens within the US. Both countries have stolen phone databases, so the export of devices is very common.
Developing markets are predominately prepay, as opposed to the more popular contract based market in the UK where the cost of a handset is kept low. The demand for handsets in developing countries is greater, with the amount paid for a handset often higher. Organised Criminal Groups are attracted to exporting stolen phones to this lucrative market.
Although criminals may attempt to sell devices to second-hand shops, in market-stalls, on auction sites, in classifieds or through recycling companies, the vast majority of them will be repurchased by phone exporters and sold abroad.