Other What do thieves do with a stolen iPhone?

Doctor Q

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On Saturday I helped a victim of a grab-and-run iPhone theft. The victim was a lady who had been holding her phone out in front of her while riding public transportation, and didn't see someone come up from behind her to grab the phone just as the train doors opened at a station. The perpetrators were a group of high school students who, according to the police I talked to at the scene, have been stealing phones like this on a regular basis.

I helped the victim call T-Mobile and use iCloud to disable her phone while the police were on the way. When they arrived, she gave them a description and the police found the criminals still nearby in the neighborhood. The police said the teens weren't used to getting off at this train stop and didn't know their way around, leaving them unable to vanish as they might do in their own neighborhood. At least one of the students was led away in handcuffs and the police recovered the phone and returned it to the victim. From theft to recovery took about 90 minutes. I think the victim was unusually lucky to get her phone back.

Given Apple's iPhone security features, I know that it's not easy to use a stolen phone. Perhaps professional adult thieves ship phones to other countries, have sophisticated equipment to try to access the phone contents, or know how to salvage parts from a stolen phone. But it's hard for me to image that opportunistic high schoolers are doing these things, especially when they aren't smart enough to execute a successful getaway.

So what ARE they likely doing with the stolen phones? Selling them to unscrupulous repair shops? Selling them online to people who don't realize that they're getting a non-functional phone? I'm just plain puzzled why they'd steal a phone rather than grabbing the victim's purse for the cash that's likely in it.
 

Doctor Q

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Selling what they can for parts, as well as places like eBay. And for those victims who didn’t secure their phone, the crooks get lucky.
That could be. These particular thieves were a group of 5, so they must split the proceeds 5 ways. I don't know if the fact that one of them was arrested is going to make a difference. Juveniles may get off with a warning unless they are caught repeatedly.

The victim was lucky that other people were around to help. My wife was there too, and she called 911 while I called city transportation security, so we soon had at least 5 security or police people there. The lady used our phones to call her family as well as to turn off her phone remotely. Since she chased the thieves off the train and was not near her home or office, she wouldn't have had a way to do this without the help of bystanders.

At one point, just before the police arrived, she pointed at 2 of the teens who were still nearby in the neighborhood. I snapped a photo of them and texted it to the first policeman who showed up, but I think the police had already spotted the suspects a block away. Over time, I hope police and prosecutors can do something about this roving group and others like them.
 

BasicGreatGuy

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That could be. These particular thieves were a group of 5, so they must split the proceeds 5 ways. I don't know if the fact that one of them was arrested is going to make a difference. Juveniles may get off with a warning unless they are caught repeatedly.

The victim was lucky that other people were around to help. My wife was there too, and she called 911 while I called city transportation security, so we soon had at least 5 security or police people there. The lady used our phones to call her family as well as to turn off her phone remotely. Since she chased the thieves off the train and was not near her home or office, she wouldn't have had a way to do this without the help of bystanders.

At one point, just before the police arrived, she pointed at 2 of the teens who were still nearby in the neighborhood. I snapped a photo of them and texted it to the first policeman who showed up, but I think the police had already spotted the suspects a block away. Over time, I hope police and prosecutors can do something about this roving group and others like them.
It is a good thing you and the Mrs were there to help. If more peoPle got involved to help others, I think This kind of Incident wouldn’t happen as much as it does.
 
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JPack

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Thieves generate a fake invoice, present it to the Apple Store, and get a replacement. The replacement is obviously iCloud unlocked.

The stolen phone is presented to the Apple Store as completely bricked.
 

Doctor Q

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Thieves generate a fake invoice, present it to the Apple Store, and get a replacement. The replacement is obviously iCloud unlocked.

The stolen phone is presented to the Apple Store as completely bricked.
It's hard to imagine these teens being that sophisticated.

Since there are quite a few Apple Stores in Los Angeles, different kids could go to different Apple Stores so the same kid wouldn't make an exchange twice at the same store. But wouldn't the store get ID from the person making an exchange, discover that the phone was reported stolen, and share the ID with the police?

Also, the thieves pulled out the sim card (the victim didn't get it back), so you'd think that an Apple Store would be suspicious.
 

JPack

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Mar 27, 2017
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It's hard to imagine these teens being that sophisticated.

Since there are quite a few Apple Stores in Los Angeles, different kids could go to different Apple Stores so the same kid wouldn't make an exchange twice at the same store. But wouldn't the store get ID from the person making an exchange, discover that the phone was reported stolen, and share the ID with the police?

Also, the thieves pulled out the sim card (the victim didn't get it back), so you'd think that an Apple Store would be suspicious.
It's not difficult to pull off. Remember the Oregon student who scammed Apple nearly $1M? The student used completely fake iPhones. Your lady victim has a real iPhone making it much easier.

A stolen phone likely takes days to show up in any database. Assuming Apple asks for ID (I don't think they do), a fake ID costs a few dollars to produce vs. the value of an Apple replacement iPhone.
 
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Doctor Q

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LovingTeddy

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Selling what they can for parts, as well as places like eBay. And for those victims who didn’t secure their phone, the crooks get lucky.
Selling parts is low tech.

The real one is just use the logic board, casing and display. You swap processors, base and chips, flash storage. Assign them a new serial number. You have a complete new iPhone.
 

VeNoMiZeD

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Jul 14, 2008
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Well at least ecoATM says that they return stolen phones to their owners. And that they take photos of people at the kiosks.
Our cameras on our trains record the assaults. They don’t care, they’re under age and usually a slap on the wrist if caught and they know this.
 

JPack

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I work in transportation and was told by an officer that they sell them to those cell phone kiosk like here:
https://www.google.com/amp/s/flipsy...-for-old-cell-phones-or-criminal-honeypot/amp
ecoATM checks the device to see if it's iCloud locked. You need to plug it in to the kiosk. It wouldn't work for iPhones, at least not for stolen iPhones that are locked. Android is something else though.
[doublepost=1565662093][/doublepost]
Selling parts is low tech.

The real one is just use the logic board, casing and display. You swap processors, base and chips, flash storage. Assign them a new serial number. You have a complete new iPhone.
That would work in Shenzhen, but the guys in the U.S. don't have access to such tech. And it's much easier to use the fake invoice/bricked device method at U.S. Apple Stores.
 

VeNoMiZeD

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ecoATM checks the device to see if it's iCloud locked. You need to plug it in to the kiosk. It wouldn't work for iPhones, at least not for stolen iPhones that are locked. Android is something else though.
[doublepost=1565662093][/doublepost]

That would work in Shenzhen, but the guys in the U.S. don't have access to such tech.
The thieves target stations that are closest to those EcoATM. They run straight there shortly after the theft. The victim at this time is still trying to get the report done.
 

JPack

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The thieves target stations that are closest to those EcoATM. They run straight there shortly after the theft. The victim at this time is still trying to get the report done.
The iPhone is iCloud locked. ecoATM checks this because you need to plug in a cable to the iPhone. It wouldn't work on iPhones.

This has nothing to do with proximity to anything.
 

VeNoMiZeD

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The iPhone is iCloud locked. ecoATM checks this because you need to plug in a cable to the iPhone. It wouldn't work on iPhones.

This has nothing to do with proximity to anything.
Ok that part I’m not too familiar about but that’s what an officer told me at work.
 

Banglazed

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Apr 17, 2017
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These stolen iPhone can still fetch a decent price especially on eBay or Craigslist where it’s sold off as “iCloud Locked” or “For parts”. There are many services on eBay that claim they can generate a fake receipt where buyers would take it with their device to attempt to get iCloud removed by Apple. Security might be strong on the device but there’s still possibility there maybe some glitch or loophole to get pass to the home screen. Most likely, people will attempt to remove the iCloud either using other third party services such as iCloud Removal where they will try to phish your account credential. She may experience an increase in phishing attempt from really crafted email pretending to be from Apple that the attached link will direct users to a clone of Apple’s account login page. If these kids are part of some theft ring, it’s possible it may be shipped to aboard.

I recalled I had a chat with Apple once about stolen devices and said that their employees do not intervene in such situation if a device turns up in their store. They will not confront the thieves. I’m not sure if they have change their policy since then.
 

eyoungren

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Aug 31, 2011
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Given Apple's iPhone security features, I know that it's not easy to use a stolen phone. Perhaps professional adult thieves ship phones to other countries, have sophisticated equipment to try to access the phone contents, or know how to salvage parts from a stolen phone. But it's hard for me to image that opportunistic high schoolers are doing these things, especially when they aren't smart enough to execute a successful getaway.

So what ARE they likely doing with the stolen phones? Selling them to unscrupulous repair shops? Selling them online to people who don't realize that they're getting a non-functional phone? I'm just plain puzzled why they'd steal a phone rather than grabbing the victim's purse for the cash that's likely in it.
Perhaps some professional adult thief has offered them a small payment for the phones they can steal?

If they get caught, the pro thief isn't out anything and being teens they are less likely to be arrested/spend jail time.

Sounds like maybe a ring going on there?

IDK, just a guess.
 

Doctor Q

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One problem the young lady had was that T-Mobile needed proof of her identity to record her phone as stolen. They usually do that by sending a code to the email address associated with your account. We tried that, but she couldn't get the code from her gmail account (using my phone) because she had 2FA set up for gmail, and Google sent the code to her stolen phone. Oops! Luckily, T-Mobile understood the dilemma and asked her security questions from her other account information to verify her identity. The T-Mobile rep stayed on the phone with us for web over 30 minutes. I was impressed with their helpfulness.

Since I use 1Password and don't know all of my long random-text passwords by heart, I'd have even more trouble without my phone. I couldn't use a borrowed phone. As things stand, I'd have to get to one of my Macs to look up my password for almost any account. I now think that I need to change to an iCloud password that I memorize, rather than letting 1Password do all the work. Or I just need to carry two Apple devices at all times.
 
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Tsepz

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Here in South Africa, a lot of thieves take your +$1000 iPhone and sell it for $50 for drugs, the people who buy the phones will usually sell them to unscrupulous shops/repairers who will sell the phone into neighboring countries etc...

Other thieves will steal it for the metal and other components and simply take it to recycling merchants.

So I have slapped on fully comprehensive insurance on it, as I do with most of my devices, most times these devices are tracked into dangerous informal settlements where there are no roads, so all you do is to show the cops where it was tracked to, they take that info and do what they can, you get an affidavit to give to your insurance and say goodbye to your old phone.
 

NoBoMac

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So what ARE they likely doing with the stolen phones? [...] Selling them online to people who don't realize that they're getting a non-functional phone?
This. How many threads on here re: "I bought on Craigslist a phone and it won't activate"?

Since I use 1Password and don't know all of my long random-text passwords by heart, I'd have even more trouble without my phone. I couldn't use a borrowed phone. As things stand, I'd have to get to one of my Macs to look up my password for almost any account. I now think that I need to change to an iCloud password that I memorize, rather than letting 1Password do all the work. Or I just need to carry two Apple devices at all times.
I dunno. Worst case scenario is if the phone is unlocked and thief is smart enough to start messing with display lock etc when "safe" distance away, then might have issues. But since most stuff will require your device passcode or 2FA to toggle, or fingerprint/face, or passcode to get to password manager, keychain, 2FA code app, etc, got runway to fix things. If close to home or work, can always get back and start locking things down via password manager, Find My, etc. Or can create an encrypted Note on both your and SO device with the big hitter codes/passwords. If traveling, probably have different device back in the room, so, have an out.

But, yeah, Apple ID might be something to setup as something rememberable (but not too), to get to Find My.
 

New_Mac_Smell

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Oct 17, 2016
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I think you're attributing too much intelligence to these thieves by even posing the question "What to do they with a stolen phone". Given you said they were teens, and the description of the act you gave, I would suggest they aren't thinking about what to do with it. More, they see an opportunity and grabbed it. They're probably more aware of the retail value than the security of the device.
 

msp3

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May 9, 2015
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Sold to "repair shops" for parts (may or may not be roundabout through fleaBay) as the phone itself is useless with Find my iPhone in place.

These are the criminals you support when you patronize the crooks that run unauthorized "repair" businesses
 
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DevinNj

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Apr 27, 2016
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You won't really ever be able to understand why people do what they do. For some people it's the money, for others it's the "thrill" if you will, of stealing. The actual value of the phone may/may not even be a factor. With a stolen car for example, the parts are worth more than the whole car is. Not to mention, like stated above, there are situations where a phone being blacklisted doesn't really matter.
 
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