One of the biggest advantages of Apple’s iPhones are the security features that make for a serious deterrent against theft, but unfortunately not all would-be thieves have clued in that stealing iPhones is usually pointless and not worth the effort.
This was presumably the case for a group of six sledgehammer-wielding thieves who broke into an Apple Store in Perth, Australia, making off with $300,000 in iPhones in the process.
According to ABC Australia, the thieves, armed with a sledgehammer and other weapons, first smashed their way into an Apple Store in Perth’s central business district at about 2:15 a.m. on Monday morning. However, after being frightened off by a passing cab, they fled that store empty handed before setting their sites on a store in suburban Booragoon.
In the second store, they threatened security staff and made off with $300,000 worth of products, mostly made up of iPhones. It’s unclear, however, whether the stolen iPhones were display models or whether the thieves actually got access to Apple’s inventory.
Why Stolen iPhones Are Useless
Way back in iOS 7, Apple introduced a feature known as Activation Lock, which led to a huge drop in thefts of personal iPhones. In essence, once you set up your iPhone, the security feature “locked” that device to your own Apple ID, preventing it from being used by anybody else — even after a complete wipe and restore — unless they could supply your Apple ID username and password to “unlock” it.
However, there’s another obvious aspect to this feature, since if Apple can enforce Activation Lock on a personal iPhone, it can just as easily flip the same switch on any iPhone — especially those that have been stolen from its own Apple Stores.
iPhones that are displayed in Apple Stores are tied to Apple’s own store Wi-Fi networks, and designed to be immediately locked out as soon as they leave the store, rendering them completely useless to anybody who might decide to pick one up and leave with it.
Similarly, iPhones in Apple’s store inventory are locked out until they’re actually sold to customers. Apple’s point-of-sale system takes care of doing this automatically when an iPhone is purchased, along with applying any carrier SIM locks that may still be enforced in certain countries.
How These Thieves Could Still Profit
Unfortunately, while Activation Lock makes it much less profitable to steal a used iPhone — the thief can’t use it themselves, and is unlikely to be able to sell it to an unsuspecting buyer — stealing brand new iPhones from an Apple Store that are still in their original packaging could still end up being worthwhile, since potential buyers are less likely to suspect that these iPhones would be locked out, especially if they’re “fenced” through more legitimate-seeming channels.
In fact, Perth Detective Senior Constable Matt Whelan has cautioned the public to be careful when purchasing second-hand devices for this very reason, noting that Apple will have already locked the devices, rendering them useless.
Police want to get the message out to the public that the phones that have been stolen have security on them by the manufacturer. The manufacturer knows what phones have been stolen and security measures will be enabled meaning these telephones are useless.Detective Senior Constable Matt Whelan, Perth Police
As DSC Whelan refers to “used” or “second-hand” iPhones, however, it’s possible that the thieves were only able to make off with display models, in which case they’re very unlikely to find willing buyers, and may have just gone to a lot of effort to steal a few hundred bricks.