Criminals steal your PC, your laptop, your smartphone – by burglarizing your house or by snatching them from you. Then what happens?
The problem with the everyday is complacency. The majority of us have smartphones and we don’t think twice about grabbing them from our pockets to answer a text. This makes us targets. One technique commonly takes place at bus stops. You get your phone out, and a thief takes you by surprise by simply slapping it out of your hand and running. They immediately catch you on the back foot.
But what can they do with your stolen tech…?
Selling Your Device
Even a second-hand laptop can get $50, $150, maybe $300. It obviously all depends on the model. A quick look on eBay and you’ll find bids reaching around $700 for particular makes. Many of these will just be innocent enough transactions, but it does show the cash criminals can get for used devices.
If we turn to Cash Generator, a UK-wide pawn broker, prices for laptops typically sit between £150 and £200 (US$222- $297).
Turning back to eBay, the price for a used, unlocked iPhone 6 (64GB) is hard to find below $600. And it doesn’t matter if the screen is cracked either: that can still fetch around $400! The 5s is naturally cheaper, but they typically make about $300 anyway.
It’s astounding how easy it is to sell a stolen device on, whether that’s online or face-to-face in a pawnbroker or at a yard sale.
Selling Individual Components
A complete device can fetch great amounts of cash, but so too can selling individual components – a bit like using an old second-hand car for parts.
Again, this largely depends on how new the stolen PC is, what equipment is inside, capacity, and what condition it’s in. However, the Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) has a typically high price point – warranting between $100 and $200 on eBay – as has an up-to-date Central Processing Unit (CPU), though these do vary wildly in cost. The chassis, too, can demand a good sum of cash, with many reaching around $100 on eBay. In exceptional cases, such as this Lian Li Aluminum ATX Chassis, they can get over $1000!
Further components are worth less, particularly the heat sink, but as the old saying goes, this all adds up – and bypasses some risks criminals can be forced to take. But there’s an even simpler way…
Returning It To You!
This sounds absolutely bizarre, but some thieves, after a quick monetary fix, might steal your smartphone – and then give it back to you!
Selling on a phone can leave criminals vulnerable, and in some cases, it’s pretty pointless. iOS 7 introduced Activation Lock, which will insist on your Apple ID and password before doing anything at all. Apple won’t even unlock it. Google and Windows have also added similar features. In London last year, smartphone thefts fell by 50%, 27% in San Francisco, and 16% in New York – all attributed to the Kill Switch.
Of course, if that doesn’t work, you could always try uglification…
However, it appears that criminals are ganging up to enact a theft and swift recovery. The scam essentially consists of a seeming Good Samaritan recovering your smartphone – likely after chasing the assailant down, but ultimately leaving them to escape – and returning it to you. After some verbal gratitude, the do-gooder will cleverly hint at monetary recompense.
San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr told the San Fransisco Examiner that this is often $20, “more than I can get for selling [crack cocaine].”
Obviously, this depends on largely on what material you store on your PC, laptop, or smartphone, but blackmail is a potentially very lucrative way of profiting from stolen devices.
Last year was particularly notable for its high-profile blackmail cases. Sony was victim of a particularly scary hacking attack, with listed zip files and this warning: “We’ve obtained all your [internal] data, [including] your secrets and top secrets. If you don’t obey us, we’ll release data shown below to the world.” Golfer, Dustin Johnson, too, was allegedly threatened by his former attorneys to “disclose private and confidential information about Mr. Johnson, which they learned in the course of their representation of Mr. Johnson , should he commence a lawsuit to seek repayment” of $3 million supposedly stolen by them.
‘Celebrity’ can be used against those in the spotlight, but in his book, Computer-Related Risks, Peter Neumann highlighted the potential concerns about specific jobs being targeted – in particular medical professionals. After PCs were reported stolen from doctors, he notes: “Perhaps the motive was merely theft of equipment, but the systems contained sensitive data that could be used for blackmail or defamation.”
And while the leak of personal information is very worrying, sextortion is one of the most prevalent, potentially-devastating examples of blackmail. The use of explicit material (videos or images) as leverage to obtain money or further sexual acts is on the increase, according to the FBI. The recent phenomenon of sextortion has also evolved to gain greater dominance over victims. One disturbing case resulted in the suicide of a 24-year-old whose laptop was stolen, followed by the threat of leaking NSFW footage.
If your computer, smartphone, or tablet contains adult content either of yourself or a partner, you could be vulnerable to extortionists.
Any stolen data about you can be sold on to ID criminals on a black market. According to a report by PandaLabs, your credit card details can be worth as little as $2.
Data is often obtained using malware, but stolen hardware also contains revealing personal information. Thanks to cookies, criminals could log into your emails, social networking, and PayPal. There are plenty of reasons to use online banking, but that too could be vulnerable.
Because everything is stored to your Hard Disk Drive (HDD). That’s your programs, documents, images, downloads, and sites you’ve visited: all this is stored in cache folders as default. Browser cache is typically written over when it’s excessive; otherwise, you’ll need to clear cache now and again.
This data can either be sold on, used by the original thief – or both. ID theft is a very real problem: aside from blackmail, criminals might take over your Facebook to get hints about further passwords or your PIN. A thief could acquire a credit card in your name, given enough personal information. Safety nets put in place by governments and banks could limit your losses, but nonetheless, the FDIC warns, “innocent victims are likely to face long hours (and sometimes years) closing tarnished accounts and opening new ones, fixing credit records, and otherwise cleaning up the damage. They also may find themselves being denied loans, jobs and other opportunities because an identity theft ruined their reputation and credit rating.”
What Can You Do About It?
Being a victim of theft is a truly awful thing, even if it goes no further. But you’re not helpless.
Deleting cookies and cache can be annoying when inputting your email countless times to access all your accounts, but it’s worth it. You can permanently get rid of data from your hard drive. Or if you’re really pushed, you can erase it completely – or destroy it.
The most important thing is to be vigilant. Stay sceptical. Protect your smartphone or tablet: don’t be so quick to answer an SMS when you’re not sure of the environment or the people you’re surrounded by. It can wait until you’re safe. This is what you should do if your smartphone is stolen.
And if someone really is a Good Samaritan, they’d get pleasure from returning a device to you, not from receiving monetary recompense.
What other tips have you got? Do you have further words of warning? Let us know below.
Image Credits: The price of a soul by Damian Gadal; My Pocket Contents by William Hook; hard disk 6 by Uncle Saiful; lr-processed-0403 by Ritesh Nayak; Attention Thieves by rick; Watch it or lose it by Tristan Schmurr; Identity Theft by Got Credit.