New Report Details Inside Look at San Francisco Police Department Undercover Stolen iPhone Sting

Monday April 29, 2013 12:31 AM PDT by Husain Sumra
iphone5frontback.jpgAs a part of The Huffington Post's "iTheft" series of articles detailing the black market for stolen iPhones, the website has posted a new feature that takes an inside look at how the San Francisco Police Department handles its stolen iPhone sting operations.
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.
The sting operation was one of many set up to try to poison the iPhone black market in San Francisco with "fear and distrust" so that would-be buyers and sellers would be wary of engaging in any illegal transactions.

To facilitate the arrests, the SFPD solicited help from Apple. The company loaned a number of iPhones to the department, which plain clothes officers "sold" while undercover. Officer Lee himself is an Apple "expert," having been employed at an Apple retail store before joining the SFPD.

As noted by The Huffington Post, the program has a number of critics that question both its efficiency and its legality, equating it to little more than entrapment.

According to the San Francisco Police Department, nearly half of the robberies in the city have involved smartphones, which lines up with what a New York police officer said in 2011 when a similar sting operation led to 141 arrests.

The popularity of the iPhone and the iPad has also led to additional crimes such as counterfeiting, which Apple has fought in the past through lawsuits.

Top Rated Comments

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Posted: 21 months ago

Yeah... Having Apple be involved in a government program that creates "fear and distrust" in America's 14th largest city. That, just doesn't sound good.

God Forbid . . .

Wouldn't want to create "fear and distrust" IN THE CRIMINAL WORLD of America's 14th largest city! What's this country coming to when an "honest criminal" has to worry about "fear and distrust" when they are selling goods STOLEN from the actual citizens that BOUGHT the iPhone in the first place!

What an ENTITLED WORLD we are creating here . . .

Rating: 9 Votes
Posted: 21 months ago
This is bound for PRSI for sure.

Entrapment all the way. Apple should be ashamed for participating.
Rating: 9 Votes
Posted: 21 months ago

This is bound for PRSI for sure.

Entrapment all the way. Apple should be ashamed for participating.

How is it entrapment? Why should apple be ashamed

Honest sellers wouldn't have hassles with the law
Rating: 8 Votes
Posted: 21 months ago
How about cleaning up the frigging drug dealers from the Travel Lodge parking lot on Mission St? Or catching the actual criminals that are stealing the phones? The criminals will ship them off to another city and sell them there to circumvent this.
Rating: 7 Votes
Posted: 21 months ago
How is this even legal? The buyers have no way of knowing whether or not the phone is stolen. Granted, it's pretty sketchy to buy an iPhone from some guy on the street, but "sketchy" should not be enough for criminal charges, especially since no crime was actually committed (the buyers were not, in fact, purchasing stolen phones).

Edited: just read the original article on HuffPo and it's a bit clearer now, but I still think there must be a better way than entrapment.
Rating: 6 Votes
Posted: 21 months ago
This is surprising to me that they are going after the buyers. I would assume that a large amount of buyers would be seeking a phone for themselves from this market meaning they are a one time buyer.

Wouldn't it be much more efficient to arrest those selling? You know the people who are probably involved in the organised crime of stealing and fleecing the phones? Where stopping one person would remove more than just one transaction from the black market? :confused:
Rating: 4 Votes
Posted: 21 months ago
I'm glad everyone knows this is entrapment without knowing the circumstances of the sting. If it were entrapment, in California no less, these charges wouldn't stand up for two seconds. Just like prostitution stings, I'm sure they make the "customers" aware that they are purchasing stolen goods.

If you have ever had your iPhone stolen, then you should feel no sympathy for the crooks on the other end who buy your iPhone and make the theft worthwhile. These police officers are trying to cut down on the theft, I think we can give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they know how to do their jobs.
Rating: 4 Votes
Posted: 21 months ago
This is the transcript from the 'Undercover Stolen iPhone Sting Operation', but law enforcement used Chris Hansen of Dateline's "How to Catch a Predator" on NBC to catch the criminal in action. This is how it all happened...

Hansen: My name is Chris Hansen of Dateline NBC. We're doing a story on Men who try encourage the sell of stolen iPhones.

Criminal: Oh, you think this is an iPhone? This is a Samsung GS3

Hansen: That looks like an iPhone to me. It looks like this in my hand. [Pulls out plastic/brittle cell phone]

Criminal: That's actually a Samsung GS3. Our most profitable model mirrored from an iPhone.

Hansen: But I was told this was an iPhone

Criminal: Sorry, you fell for our new marketing campaign. So are you going upgrade to our latest model? We're now selling GS4.

Hansen: I don't understand. Where am I?

Criminal: You're actually in Best Buy, our new Samsung store front in about 200 locations across the nation.

Hansen: But this is my film crew. There's law enforcement outside who plan to bring you to justice for selling stolen iphones.

Criminal: I'm sorry to disappoint you, but we can market our devices any way we choose and build our designs off the inspired R&D of competitors of whoever is popular this decade.

Hansen: You can do that? And there's no repercussions for such unethical practice? How do you sleep at night?

Criminal: Lets just say, anyone can try to bring us to court. we'll play along and pay our fines, but the goal is to keep our competitors trapped in litigation and to tarnish their brand name.

Hansen: I knew there was something wrong with my phone. All these gimmicks like trying to change a photo by swiping in the air. It doesn't work half the time. Am I holding it wrong?

Criminal: Oh, no, you're holding it correctly. Wait, yes, it's upside down. There... [fixes phone] But we only put in about 2 weeks of development and 1 week of QA. It's actually meant to track eyes of specific ethnicity. This is why this feature doesn't work as well for everyone, but for you it was upside down. You should try again now.

Hansen: So, this phone is racist?

Criminal: I'm not sure I'm following.

Hansen: This phone doesn't operate for everyone, since I'm clearly not of any korean descent.

Criminal: This is possible, but I'm not a liberty to disclose such details.

Hansen: But you just sai....

Criminal: I'm sorry, but I'm not going to be able to help you any more.

Hansen: That's fine. I didn't even like this phone anyway.

Criminal: This is to be expected as well, which is why we now have the store fronts at Best Buy next to the Apple store fronts here [points to the Apple store booth next to him] to discourage people from buying iPhones.

Hansen: You clearly know what you're doing.

Criminal: Yes, we've been doing this a long time even before Apple's iphone/ipad days.

Hansen: Well you're very good at it.

Criminal: We pride ourself as being #1 in consumer dissatisfaction.
Rating: 3 Votes
Posted: 21 months ago

This is bound for PRSI for sure.

Entrapment all the way. Apple should be ashamed for participating.

You clearly don't know the definition of "entrapment": a defense that claims the defendant would not have broken the law if not tricked into doing it by law enforcement officials.

These were criminals that were knowingly buying stolen iPhones, and therefore clearly "likely" to commit the crime whether or not the police had setup the sting operation.

Read the original HuffPost article ( before you start spouting off things that simply aren't true.
Rating: 3 Votes
Posted: 21 months ago

The buyers have no way of knowing whether or not the phone is stolen.

According to the article, potential buyers ARE informed that the phone is stolen. The undercover cop claims he just stole them from the Apple store.

The MacRumors article should have made this clear in the excerpt. I thought it was entrapment as well, until I took the time to read the cited article.

Whatever you think about the police tactics, the buyer cannot claim he didn't know it was stolen, when the seller told him that up front.
Rating: 3 Votes

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