Stolen iPhone Extortion Scam

iPhone in the pocket

The Stolen iPhone extortion scam targets individuals whose iPhones have been stolen and have Find My enabled. This scam aims to force the victims to erase their stolen devices from their Apple accounts and thus remove Activation Lock so that scammers can activate the device.

As a quick reminder, Find My has a unique feature called Lost Mode that lets you lock your device remotely, mark it as lost, and display a custom message on the screen. Let’s explore how this scam works, how to spot the red flags, and what to do if you ever fall into the scammers’ trap. We’ll also explain how international criminal rings profit from stolen iPhones.


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You can also read other Apple scams still infiltrating users’ devices. Let’s dig in!

How the Stolen iPhone Extortion Scam Works

Scammers have been using virtually the same messages word-by-word for years. It suggests that the same group of scammers carry them out and don’t even bother to change their script. They want you to remove your stolen iPhone from your Apple account because they can’t sell it online or offline. A locked iPhone is worthless.

The scammers will first try to convince you politely to remove the device from your Apple account. They’ll send messages from a fake Apple Support Center or Apple Jailbreak Center to appear more convincing. In a variant of this scam, scammers inform you that your device has been found and insert a link to a fake “Find My iPhone” page inviting you to track your phone on a spoofed map.

Don’t fall for this trap.

The scammers set up that page to steal your credentials. If successful, they will use this information to unlock your iPhone. Other scammers will come up with a sad story, posing as Chinese parents who bought a second-hand iPhone for their daughter. They’ll tell you how sad the kid is because she can’t use the phone, and they’ll kindly ask you to remove it from your Apple account.

Stolen-iPhone-Extortion-Scam-first-message-screenshot

If they don’t get a reply or you deny their request, the scammers will step up their game and explain how angry their daughter is because she can’t use the iPhone.

They’ll say they’re unfortunate and are considering ending their life because of this situation.

Stolen-iPhone-Extortion-Scam-sad-daughter

It marks the last step of the nice-approach strategy.

If this strategy doesn’t work, they’ll quickly resort to threats. They’ll tell you they can access your personal information, which scammers will sell on the dark web unless you agree to remove the stolen iPhone from your Apple account.

Stolen-iPhone-Extortion-Scam-black-market-threat

These messages often include personal information meant to scare you and make the scam more successful, such as your full name, address and details about your family.

If the scammers don’t get the response they want, they’ll switch to nasty insults and threats.

stolen iphone scam messages
Sometimes, they’ll even send you images or videos of a man waving a gun to make their threat more realistic. It works similarly to the Jalisco Cartel scam.

How to Spot the Red Flags

The first red flag is the request to remove your stolen iPhone from your Apple account. Don’t EVER do that. Keep your iPhone connected to your Apple account. You have all the power as long as your stolen iPhone is attached to your Apple account.

The threats that follow are another major red flag. The scammers will show their true colors when you reject their requests. Don’t worry about their threats. They won’t show up at your door to carry them out. They’re overseas; they can’t harm you or your family.

What to Do When You Get These Scam Messages

If you’re pressured to remove your stolen Apple devices from your Apple account, you should ignore the request. Don’t engage with the scammers. Report these messages to Apple using the Report Junk option.

After getting multiple reports about the same account, Apple can ban the respective accounts. At least, you’ll frustrate the scammers by forcing them to create new accounts.

Contact the local law enforcement authorities and report the scam attempt. The bad news is they won’t be able to do anything about your stolen iPhone. If there are many reports, local law enforcement might work together with authorities in the scammers’ country to eventually go after them.

Contact your carrier and report the device as stolen so they can block the IMEI number. In this manner, the device will become unusable on most networks. Additionally, you can also delete your personal data remotely. Rest assured, your device will remain connected to your Apple account.

Log into your iCloud account, go to Find iPhone, select your iPhone and click on Erase iPhone.

As for the stolen iPhone, get used to the idea you can never have it back. After multiple unsuccessful attempts to get you to remove the device from your Apple account, they’ll break it down into parts. The good news is that Apple will soon implement a system to prevent thieves and scammers from making money off of stolen iPhone parts.

As Apple explains:

If a device under repair detects that a supported part was obtained from another device with Activation Lock or Lost Mode enabled, calibration capabilities for that part will be restricted.

Why Are Stolen iPhones Sent Overseas?

Stolen iPhones are often shipped overseas to countries such as China, Vietnam, Africa and other countries because the US registry for stolen phones doesn’t work there. Typically, scammers send these messages around one month after stealing your device. That’s how long it takes for your stolen iPhone to travel from the US to the scammers’ headquarters. Scammers usually buy stolen iPhones from thieves in bulk. It is a million-dollar business for them that involves multi-level international crime rings.

Here’s how the whole system works.

Thieves often work in teams of tens of individuals targeting music festival attendees. Stolen iPhones are shipped overseas and can be sold as second-hand devices or parts. Criminal fences play an important part in this scheme. These are people or businesses that purchase stolen iPhones and move them back to the retail market by reselling them as second-hand devices.

Legitimate businesses often carry out fencing activities for more profit. That could explain why thousands of people reported their stolen iPhones ended up in the same area in Shenzhen, China. That’s where tens of legitimate stores that sell refurbished iPhones and other electronic devices are located.

Interestingly, in that area, there’s a 1.1 square mile district called Huaqiangbei that boasts one of the world’s largest electronics markets, including second-hand devices. That’s probably where your stolen iPhone will end up being sold for parts. At least the scammers are not lying when they tell you the device is in China.

Another interesting thing about that area is that Foxconn, one of the largest iPhone factories in the world, is located nearby. Unfortunately, despite countless reports of stolen iPhones ending up in the same area, law enforcement authorities haven’t done anything to the iPhone stores and refurbishing center businesses operating in that area. If you want to learn more about the hidden world of iPhone trafficking and how criminals break into your phone, check out the two short documentaries below.

Barely Sociable: Inside The Illicit World Of iPhone Trafficking

The Wall Street Journal: iPhone Thief Explains How He Breaks Into Your Phone

The Most Important Thing: Avoid Getting Your iPhone Stolen

The most important thing is avoiding getting your iPhone stolen in the first place. Always be aware of your surroundings. Keep your eyes wide open, and scan your surroundings for unusual behavior or suspicious-looking individuals. Keep in mind that large public gatherings, such as music festivals and popular bars have been festering with thieves since forever. Thieves prefer these places because intoxicated people make easier targets.

In crowded places, keep your hands on your front pockets where your phone and money are. Consider investing in pickpocket-proof clothing items. They have zippered inner pockets that you can use to keep your iPhone and other valuable items safe from thieves. Prevention is always better than cure.

Enable Find My and Stolen Device Protection (available with iOS 17.3).

Go to Settings, tap your name, and enable Find My.

Go back to Settings, select Face ID & Passcode, enter your passcode, and tap Stolen Device Protection.

iOS-Stolen-Device-Protection

Enable this feature to add a few extra hurdles for thieves and scammers to access and change sensitive information on stolen devices. What this feature does is require Face ID or Touch ID when accessing sensitive information when your iPhone is in unfamiliar locations. For more information about the Stolen Device Protection feature, visit Apple’s Support page.

⇒ Don’t Forget!

If your iPhone gets stolen, first, you need to enable Lost Mode and Activation Lock using the Find My app. Then, change your Apple ID password, report the theft to the police and your carrier.

Have you ever had your iPhone stolen and tracked it pinging in China? Do tell us more about your experience in the comments below.


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