Three “big rats” stole 240 iPhones by tunneling into a warehouse in Beijing

Smuggled iPhone 6 sets, seized at a port in Shenzhen, near the Hong Kong border.
Smuggled iPhone 6 sets, seized at a port in Shenzhen, near the Hong Kong border.
Image: Reuters/Stringer
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Three Chinese men have been arrested for stealing 240 iPhones 6 handsets, worth almost 1.4 million yuan ($225,350) from a warehouse in Beijing. The heist by three “big rats,” as the Chinese state news agency Xinhua described them, using a phrase sometimes used to mean burglars, is one of the more creative iPhone thefts in China, which have increased as the phone has become a status symbol in the world’s largest smartphone market.

The men broke into a warehouse storing iPhones by digging a 50 cm hole (about a foot and a half) in the wall; one of the men was a driver for a logistics company that owned the warehouse. Police tracked some of the stolen phones by their serial numbers to the northeastern province of Heilongjiang where a seller confessed to authorities the identities of the three men.

According to Xinhua, the men spent most of the money “on cars, gold, and gambling.” When the men were caught in late December, only 300,000 yuan (link in Chinese) of the 1.34 million they had earned by selling the phones was left, according to police.

IPhone theft in China, where the phones sell for around 6,000 yuan, is common, especially now that China accounts for more iPhone sales than the US, according to new data from UBS. In February, a 19-year-old wielding a Japanese katana knife robbed a mobile phone store in Wenzhou.

Stolen iPhones in the US are also often sold on the black market in China—last year, authorities arrested a California couple for selling stolen iPhones in Hong Kong through a scheme that earned them almost $4 million in less than a year.