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Find My lays out global anatomy of an iPhone theft

Find My

The chain of events that follow after an iPhone theft have been recounted by a victim that used Find My to see how the smartphone traveled world-wide as a theft ring attempts to profit from its crime.

Smartphone thefts are a common occurrence around the world, and are now a highly-organized operation. In one view of what happens after such a theft, a Mastodon thread reveals the iPhone can go on a very long solo journey.

Mastodon user "Emerson" explains they had their iPhone stolen on a business trip to London, and had been keeping track of its movements via Find My.

The theft took place on Oxford Street as the victim responded to a text. Within 30 seconds, a cyclist snatched the phone from their hands, and rapidly got away.

After realizing the iPhone was still unlocked, they opened Find My on a MacBook, set the iPhone to Lost Mode, and initiated a remote wipe. The movements of the iPhone could still be observed, and therefore the thief.

The thief was tracked going down Oxford Street, passing through multiple tube stops, and circling "around touristy areas a couple times," preying on potentially easy targets. Eventually, the iPhone stopped moving in Tottenham, and the owner stopped tracking it on the assumption it was a basic theft that would involve a sale on Facebook Marketplace.

"But no, it turned out to be far more sophisticated," the victim explains.

The next day, phishing messages were sent to their emergency contacts, using URLs that led to a Find My-style phishing page. It is believed this was an attempt to secure the Apple ID password associated with the iPhone, since it cannot be reactivated without the original Apple ID.

At this point, the iPhone was also found to be in a different location in London, where it stayed for weeks. It was assumed that the iPhone would be scrapped for parts since the phishing attacks failed.

A shift to China

An email was received a month later, stating the Activation Lock on the stolen iPhone was requesting a password. On opening up Find My, it turned out the iPhone had reached Shenzhen, China.

"I initially thought this was some basic theft where my phone gets resold as a brick to some poor soul on Facebook Marketplace," Emerson explains. "But nope, it was way more sophisticated than that with a full-blown phishing attempts and a final ship off to China."

In concluding the coverage, Emerson offers a variety of tips to other travelers, including enabling Find My on their devices, having a way to access Find My from other hardware, to be wary of who you list as emergency contacts and of text messages, and to avoid making any hardware a single point of failure.

Lastly, "Don't text while waiting at a crosswalk in London."

It is unsurprising that the stolen iPhone reached Shenzhen, as there have been previous instances of sophisticated criminal organizations in the country dealing with iPhones. For example, in 2018, a report explained the lengths Apple went to in combating rampant repair fraud, where organized teams would steal components from iPhones, return them to stores for repairs, and received replacements that were then resold.

Find My has also been useful in other crimes that involved Apple products in other ways. In November, car thieves in New Hampshire were busted after AirPods in the vehicle were tracked, while in August, a baggage handler was arrested for stealing thousands of dollars worth of jewelry and other items, found via AirTag.