China Catches Smugglers Using Drones to Transport $80M Worth of iPhones From Hong Kong to Mainland

A group of criminals in China were caught smuggling 500 million yuan ($79.8 million) worth of refurbished iPhones from Hong Kong to Shenzhen, using drones connected via cables to transport the smartphones. Reported by the Legal Daily (via Reuters), customs officers in Shenzhen caught the group and ceased its illegal actions, arresting 26 total suspects in the process.

Photo by Liu Youzhi/Southern Metropolis Daily via Reuters

The group was using drones to fly two 660-foot cables between Hong Kong and the mainland as a method of transporting the iPhones. They typically operated after midnight and into the morning hours, and "only needed seconds" to transport small bags that held 10 iPhones or more using the cable-connected drones. In one night, they could reach a quota of as many as 15,000 iPhones transported.

According to a news conference held by the customs officers, this marks "the first case found in China that drones were being used in cross-border smuggling crimes."
Shenzhen customs was quoted by the Legal Daily as saying it would closely monitor new types of smuggling with high-tech devices and enhance their capability with technical equipment, including drones and high-resolution monitors, to detect smuggling activity.
Drone regulations are said to be "an important task" for Chinese officials, with the government publishing a series of strict rules in 2017 after drones were found to be interfering with aircraft flight paths. Civilian drone owners are now required to register any drone "up to a certain weight" using their real names.

While using drones might be new, the act of individuals attempting to smuggle iPhones out of Hong Kong has certainly been around for years. In early 2015, a man tried to smuggle 94 iPhones into mainland China by strapping them onto his body and under his clothes. Smuggling operations pop up frequently because of higher import taxes, which cause the iPhones to be more expensive in the mainland than they are in Hong Kong.

Tag: China

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20 months ago
79.8 million dollars worth of iPhones? that must have been about 6 iPhone X's.
Rating: 21 Votes
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20 months ago
I know smuggling is a bad thing, but that is so cool!
Rating: 10 Votes
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20 months ago
Amazon beta testers.
Rating: 6 Votes
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20 months ago

I know smuggling is a bad thing, but that is so cool!

Smuggling is especially 'bad' when it's from the People's Republic of China to the People's Republic of China, I guess.
Rating: 5 Votes
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20 months ago

Smuggling is especially 'bad' when it's from the People's Republic of China to the People's Republic of China, I guess.


The people of Hong Kong sure aren't going to agree with you on that one...
Rating: 5 Votes
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20 months ago

I know smuggling is a bad thing, but that is so cool!


I agree, this is pretty cool, 15,000 phones a night. Holy smokes!
Rating: 5 Votes
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20 months ago

The cables are hanging from the drones so that they don't have to come all the way down and land, which means the drones are further up and less likely to be heard.


What single drone is going to have enough power to fly from Hong Kong to Shenzhen carrying a 660 ft cable with up to 10+ iPhones hanging from it at the bottom?

And getting past that issue, what if there is a little wind pushing on that super-long tether?

I suspect it's more toward the zip line concept. Drones take an end across to Shenzhen late at night. Phones are attached like clothes on a clothes line and "zipped" across. Then drones bring the end back to Hong Kong hiding the mode of transport. More toward this...



At the end of a 660ft tether, I'm envisioning people having to go to hospitals reporting getting hit by a bundle of iPhone boxes flying out of the sky, whacking them in the head and then flying back into the sky. Some gods revenge on our evil technology-embracing ways???;)
Rating: 4 Votes
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20 months ago

I thought it was 2-fold issue. 1 is the phones are cheaper in HK, so they profit by moving them in and reselling, and 2 that in mainland china certain apps/features are removed that aren't removed in HK. So people want the HK version that gives them access to stuff they wouldn't otherwise have.


No features are removed on Chinese iPhone models. Hardware and software are exactly the same. Both HK and China get the best Qualcomm modem.

It’s purely a difference in price. Hong Kong is a tax free port. China has a heavy foreign tax on imported goods as Apple is a foreign company.

As an example, the difference in price for iPhone X is US$300.
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Yeah, the iPhones are mostly MADE in China. So they’re literally smuggled BACK in.. why?
How is there an import tax for something made in the country? That’s insane. It goes to show how tightly China controls its internal consumers technology markets if something made at a factory there is more expensive than sold outside the country.


Everything from iPhone to Boeing 737 is made in China. The difference is where the profits are going, inside or outside the country.
Rating: 3 Votes
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20 months ago

Yeah, the iPhones are mostly MADE in China. So they’re literally smuggled BACK in.. why?
How is there an import tax for something made in the country? That’s insane. It goes to show how tightly China controls its internal consumers technology markets if something made at a factory there is more expensive than sold outside the country.


I thought it was 2-fold issue. 1 is the phones are cheaper in HK, so they profit by moving them in and reselling, and 2 that in mainland china certain apps/features are removed that aren't removed in HK. So people want the HK version that gives them access to stuff they wouldn't otherwise have.
Rating: 2 Votes
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20 months ago
This is dumb, China just needs to lower the import taxes instead of making criminals out of people wanting more reasonably priced devices!
Rating: 2 Votes
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