IPhone thieves find Apple support helpful to them, too

Thu Jan 26, 2012 10:04am EST
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By Mitch Lipka

(Reuters) - When Apple Inc (AAPL.O: Quote) set up its customer service plan for the iPhone, it seems to have had the best intentions of humanity in mind -- any phone under warranty can get serviced because it's the phone that's tied to the warranty, not the owner.

So you don't have to show up in person at an Apple store to get your phone fixed, which allows the common scenario of the boss sending his or her assistant to get repairs. Similarly, someone who bought their phone from someone else can get a repair without a hassle.

This approach thrills many Apple owners, who have boasted on message boards of how generous some stores have been in replacing broken iPhones. But that same approach has apparently rewarded a lot of thieves. The ease of trading in stolen iPhones and selling their replacements makes them nearly as tempting as grabbing cash.

In cities from coast-to-coast, reports of iPhone thefts are common. While some thieves sell the phones through the traditional channels of fencing stolen goods, examples abound of stolen iPhones being brought back to Apple, as if broken, for either replacement or a discount on a new unit.

"Apple seems to have not considered stolen devices and instead is relying on the honor system," says Robert Siciliano, a consultant for Intel Corp's (INTC.O: Quote) technology security unit McAfee and an identity theft expert. "The honor system is devised with the mindset that we are all sheep and there are no wolves."

Siciliano says he has known of this problem for a while, but doesn't see any immediate solution. "Until consumers scream loud enough about this issue, Apple probably won't do anything about it."

MIT graduate student Kayla Menard is among those who wants her voice to be heard screaming. She was sending a text from her 3-month-old iPhone while waiting for a train at Boston's Park Street Station last month when someone snatched it from her hand and ran.

Days later she received an automated email that her damaged phone was repaired at an Apple Store. She went to the store to try to get back her phone, but they wouldn't hand it over to her, and she was told there was nothing they could do. "Because I don't have possession of the phone, they won't help me at all," she says.   Continued...

<p>Luke Peters holds the new iPhone 4S outside the Apple store in Covent Garden, London October 14, 2011. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett</p>