December 01, 2012 08:20
An average of 1,800 smartphones go missing every day. In October, a total of 56,841 missing mobile phones were reported to the National Police Agency.
The number grew exponentially with the introduction of smartphones. There were just 12,279 cases reported in 2009, but they shot up to 333,959 last year, and reached 549,385 from January to October this year alone.
Most of the missing phones are smartphones, which now have more than 30 million users in Korea.
Police believe they were mostly stolen. Smartphones are small, expensive and easy to resell, and therefore tempting targets for theft. Stolen smartphones are often sold online for price ranging between W50,000 (US$1=W1,083) and W400,000 depending on their condition.
Most stolen or lost smartphones are taken overseas, mostly to China and Southeast Asia. Smartphones that have been reported missing cannot be used in Korea, but they can be used abroad by replacing the SIM card.
Made-in-Korea handsets are more expensive in China, so even secondhand handsets are in huge demand. Smugglers collect handsets from fences and sell them to traders in the ports of Incheon or Gunsan, who take the goods to China, or send them via airmail to Hong Kong or Macau.
An increasing number of Korean Chinese who know their way round business in China are getting involved in smuggling stolen smartphones.
Taxi drivers are also getting involved in the dodgy trade. More and more they do not return phones passengers have left. When the night comes, fences approach to taxi drivers waiting for passengers at taxi ranks in main districts of Seoul such as Jongno, Cheongnyangni, Sinchon and Gangnam as well as some of the busiest streets in Daegu and Busan.
One taxi driver said, "Many of these fences approach us with a note with their phone numbers while we wait for customers. There are drivers who don't resist the temptation of making two or three days' worth of wages from just one nice phone."
Many smartphone thieves immediately turn off the phone when they get it to avoid being tracked down. The market is also luring teenagers into theft. One police station in Seoul recently nabbed nine high school students who stole their classmates' smartphones and sold them.
Out of 83 people who were arrested for stealing 204 smartphones in Eunpyeong District in Seoul, 23 were teenagers. Some snatched smartphones on their motorcycle, while others asked to borrow and ran away.
Teenagers mostly stole smartphones in public baths, Internet cafes and classrooms. A Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency spokesman said, "It's a new type of crime that's very hard to eradicate unless the organizations of traders and smugglers of stolen smartphones disappear."
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