3-Jul-2016 (Sun) Wherein there are photos, and also photos.

I filled up the blank white wall behind the Above DNA bar with a bunch of photos of bands who have played in that room! It turns out that upstairs has been open long enough now that there were quite a few to choose from. See how many of them you recognize...

Frames are annoyingly expensive. Please don't break them.

Also here are some photos of other recent events. Casket Girls were awesome!

Monday Hubba
Burlesque Nation
Eli Paperboy Reed
Electric Bootie Carnival

Ill Niño
Casket Girls
I'm still puzzled about the economics of the cell phone thefts. I happened to be in the Apple store the other day so I asked one of the employees there if they saw any way to make more than $30 off of a stolen iPhone, and they said it didn't make any sense to them either. Any of the articles I've found about phone theft economics are pre-iOS 8, so they predate the game changer that a stolen iPhone can no longer be reset. And it's not like they have switched to stealing only Android phones.

So look, I'm guessing that the kind of person who thinks that pickpocketing is a good career option isn't likely to read this blog, but on the off chance that you are: can you please post here and explain it to me? How does this line of work make any economic sense? Even if you manage to steal twenty phones a night, you have to split that between five guys, you had to pay to get in to multiple clubs, and in the end you're only making like $8 an hour for running the very real risk that someone's going to beat the shit out of you. So what gives?

Please enjoy jwz mixtape 168:

32 Responses:

  1. Arlo Kirschner says:

    It's been several versions of Android since you could reset those without the credentials of the owner either. So, you know, this makes even less sense.

  2. phuzz says:

    Is it possible to remove the screen in such a way that it could be sold on? that's the only part of an iPhone I can think of that people might want to buy.

    • jwz says:

      Yes, that's the component that retails for like $25 new, so if un-scratched, you could probably sell that to a sleazy local repair shop for that minus the "Receiving Stolen Goods" discount. That's pretty much it. The rest of the phone is only worth a couple dollars after it has been shipped off to China or India to be disassembled for rare metals in some shipbreaking hellhole.

      • kdm says:

        Apple-manufactured iPhone 6 screen assemblies sell for $100+ where I live, and Apple quotes $300 or more for screen replacement. $25 would be just enough to buy a poor quality replica.

        • jwz says:

          Apple will replace a 6s screen here for $120. Mall kiosks and the kind of sleazy corner shop that buys stolen components will do it far cheaper.

          • kdm says:

            Yep. Part of the problem is Apple refusing to provide replacement parts (including screens) to authorized service providers here, the only option is to replace the entire phone. We have no Apple Stores either. So these screens can get wildly expensive, and this keeps thiefs, ebay sellers and corner shops in business.

          • chris says:

            Will the cheaper replacements be as good as the Apple screens? Last time I had to replace one, I couldn't find any way to tell for sure, so I bought a bricked (water-damaged) phone from eBay for $50 and swapped it myself.

            For all I know, the after-market screens are better than the original, but I didn't want to take the chance.

            There are a fair number of parts you can get out if you're willing to take the time -- speaker/mic, cable assemblies, case, camera, &c. None worth much individually, but they add up. A screw set in the US (not China) appears worth a couple bucks, for example. I think that you could break down an iPhone and clear $60ish, then sell the motherboard to a recycler for a buck or two.

  3. MattyJ says:

    All speculation:

    1. Maybe thieves are counting on easy to guess lock codes. (you can usually get birthday, spouse name, etc from the emergency call screen.)
    2. Maybe there are carriers in other parts of the world that care much less about supporting stolen phones. Perhaps the people that actually built the phone would have better knowledge about how to get into it.
    3. Maybe the value of the phone is only important when convincing the next tweeker down the line that it's worth something.

    • jwz says:

      1. The lock code doesn't help you. You need to guess the iCloud password, which is much harder. Yes, people still pick shitty passwords, but not everybody, so you've just divided the value by several orders of magnitude.

      2. No, it absolutely does not work that way.

      3. The "Magic Beans" theory is not very compelling, but might well be the only thing that explains it.

      • KJ says:

        I'm pretty sure it's the Magic Beans at work, as in: Steal phones. Sell on CL for well below going rate. Count on basically everyone not trying to hunt them down to get their money back.

        It's not compelling but it fits.

  4. Glaurung says:

    Crime pays very poorly, but people still do it because they have a poor grasp of just how much time and effort they are expending for nothing. All they remember are the rare occasions when they get lucky and make a bundle.

    Say 1/10 of iphones are older/owned by luddites with no idea how to secure the phone. So 90% of the pickpocket's time is wasted, but every so often they score an unsecured phone and sell it for a few hundred bucks. Those rare successes are enough to keep them at it despite the low rate of return.

    • Glaurung says:

      Forgot to say, And the value of parts in a locked phone is probably enough to pay the cover charge at the nightclub where they do their stealing, so it's not like they are losing money.

      • jwz says:

        No, it really doesn't cover the cover -- I just did the math for you!

        Crime does pay very poorly, but most of the crime we see -- like smashing a car window and grabbing whatever is on the seat -- has an up-front cost of zero, coupled with just about no potential consequences, so you're always in the black. Phone theft is unlike that on both ends. Not to mention, it takes a bit of skill and organization!

        • Glaurung says:

          You're thinkng of it as a job. What if it's more of a hobby - go to a club, dance and have fun, steal a phone or two to cover the door charges. If you luck out, you can pay for a really great weekend when you steal an unlocked phone. multiply by however many semi-employed grifters who have been infected with the phone theft meme, and you have more than enough phone thieves to go round.

  5. Gwookie says:

    They are sold overseas or they scam people with them on eBay or Craigslist.

  6. Bob says:

    If you look on Ebay a locked iphone 6 still sells for about $150. That's where the money is.

    • jwz says:

      By "locked" they mean "you have to use T-Mobile instead of AT&T", not, "you cannot reset the phone."

      • Elusis says:

        When I was shopping for a new-ish phone on eBay about 6 months ago, there were a lot of listings that said basically "now, I'm not sure you can get into this phone, and it doesn't have a good IMEI, but hey, you can take your chances with it!" and they seemed to be going for what I thought was a stupid amount of money.

        • jwz says:

          Yeah, maybe. It's the "Magic Beans" theory again. But a few things:

          1) "Offered for" != "sold for". The day Prince died, some joker tried to sell his DNA ticket stubs for $2000 each. Thankfully nobody bought it, but people sent it to me saying, Look what these are "going for"! No, they weren't, actually.

          2) Someone who would fall for that, you could also sell them a black cardboard box. No need to steal a phone first.

          3) Even the person who would fall for that probably knows enough to call their bank and dispute the credit card charge, and their bank wouldn't even argue.

          • Elusis says:

            I was shocked at the ones in the "completed sales" category. I think the key difference is that if you sell someone a "bricked iPhone" and send them a black cardboard box, eBay and Paypal have issues with you. If you sell them a bricked iPhone and send a bricked iPhone, you don't have much of a leg to stand on. "Product advertised as live bobcat contained actual live bobcat," you know?

            • jwz says:

              I am certain that "Apple says this phone is stolen" is the password to get Visa to give you your money back.

              • Nick Lamb says:

                VISA definitely doesn't give a tiny shit. They don't really deal with end users, that's up to issuers. They are a middle man, in multi-million dollar deals between corporations. If you've got some problem with an individual transaction they'll just point you to your card issuer.

                The card issuer might give you the money back if you actually and unknowingly used their credit card to buy a stolen phone. In some countries (but not the US) they are legally obliged to give this money back, because the law says they bought the stolen phone, not you, and so it's their problem. However if you spent VISA money on PayPal credit, or a voucher, or buttons, and then you spent those on a stolen phone they also do not give a shit regardless of where you live. If you get money back in that case it's "good will", ie maybe it happens to wealthy business owner Jamie Zawinski, whose "good will" is worth something, but it won't happen to the sort of poor dipshit who actually buys a stolen phone thinking it'll work and is probably living payday to payday.

                • jwz says:

                  I think you don't realize how trivial it is to contest a transaction. Unless it's a blatantly obvious lie, or the seller jumps through hoops, they just reverse the charges.

                  • gryazi says:

                    So, I did a dumb thing shopping on eBay once.

                    Can confirm eBay and PayPal do not give two shits as of a few years ago. (I guess they might give a shit if the seller specifically promises the ESN is not blacklisted, as opposed to just making no mention of that tiny problem.)

                    I guess there is also enough buyer stupidity in the phone market to support this, because it takes getting burned like that once (or reading this comment) to hear about it.

  7. rrp says:

    How much of a problem do you have with wallet theft as compared to phone theft?

    I think perhaps it's less about the economics of phone theft and more about the psychology of poor impulse control. As suggested above, I agree this might be more of a hobby than a job for the thieves in question.

    • jwz says:

      There are essentially zero wallet thefts.

      • Elusis says:

        I'm curious, surely someone has studied what percentage of iPhone owners have "Find My iPhone" turned on, have an iCloud password set up, etc.? ISTR a while back that some absurdly low number like 25% or something even had a 4-digit passcode set up? That may be the angle right there?

        • jwz says:

          I tried to answer that question and couldn't find any data that was less than 4 years old and thus about an entirely different universe. Current-world Apple is much more aggressive about making you configure iCloud. And this is all about iCloud, not the phone passcode.

  8. Thomas Lord says:

    (a) How does the sex or gender mix of in-club phone-theft victims compare to the mix of people in the club?

    (b) You say that a noteworthy fraction of the victims of in-club phone-theft proceed to act the obnoxious fool to staff. How does the asshole vs johnson mix of in-club phone-theft victims compare to the mix of people in the club?

    Hypotheses: (a) Thieves are socially/sexually frustrated. (b) Thieves are extracting revenge.

  9. Nate says:

    Regarding IMEI bans, I bought some of those off eBay for test use because they were cheaper and still worked on WiFi. I never bought iCloud-locked phones though because that would mean "stolen from the owner."

    There are various services that can reset the iCloud lock (google "bypass icloud lock"), so it's possible there are middlemen that aggregate batches of phones from the thieves, reset them, and resell on eBay.

    I would guess these thieves aren't that organized though. So I'm guessing their pattern is:

    1. Try to resell to rubes who don't know to look for iCloud lock
    2. Hope a user forgot to enable it once in a while
    3. Parts

  10. Sean says:

    WRT to Cell phone theft, They part them out to the third party repair firms in town. An used iPhone 6S screen retails for about $120, so a crackhead thief can expect, say $30? $40? That's enough for another rock.

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