Dear Apple: Good Luck Against The Smartphone Black Market : All Tech Considered The new iPhone's fingerprint recognition technology is the company's first major effort to combat smartphone theft. But with an insatiable global appetite for the devices, will it really make a difference?
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Dear Apple: Good Luck Against The Smartphone Black Market

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Dear Apple: Good Luck Against The Smartphone Black Market

Dear Apple: Good Luck Against The Smartphone Black Market

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A little business news now. Apple introduced two new iPhones last week. New features include a new operating system, more color choices, slow motion video. And on one of the models, a fingerprint security scanner called Touch ID. Users can simply touch to unlock the phone instead of entering a password. Now as it is, about half the smartphone users do not bother with security pass codes, making the phones prime products for thieves.

From member station WNYC, Ilya Marritz reports the new fingerprint technology could help to thwart a rising black market of smartphones.

ILYA MARRITZ, BYLINE: To call smartphone-related crime an epidemic is not an exaggeration. By one estimate, more than 4,000 phones are stolen everyday in the United States.

Last year, the crime rate in New York City rose, after years of declines. The reason? Fifteen thousand people reported a stolen phone. People like Jessica Ingle.

JESSICA INGLE: It was like a really crowded bar and I didn't even notice it. They must have unzipped the bag and kind of just - they must be experienced or something in doing it without people noticing.

MARRITZ: The weird thing, Ingle says, is the thief actually left her wallet in her handbag. Only the phone was missing. It was never found.

PAT TIMLIN: So it has been frustrating.

MARRITZ: Pat Timlin is a former deputy commissioner in the New York City Police Department. Officers, he says, are doing their best to fight crime. But the odds are against them. Smartphones are easy to grab, and he says they're almost as liquid as cash. In a report for the NYPD, Timlin found stolen phones changing hands all over the city.

TIMLIN: We saw bodegas, we saw local laundromats, and we saw back-alley sales.

MARRITZ: But no one has a complete picture of the size or scope of the black market. You can only catch it in glimpses.

So I'm sitting in my car now with an iPhone 4 that I borrowed from my co-worker. This was her old phone, she doesn't use it anymore, and she actually wiped it.

I spent a day driving around Brooklyn, hitting up places that advertise on Craigslist, saying, we buy used iPhones. A buyer named John agrees to meet me on the street in a run-down part of town.

I feel a little nervous about this, I have to say. Let's see what happens.

John spots me right away. We shake hands and he takes me inside, a beauty parlor, where women sit underneath hair dryers. They hardly look up from their magazines as John introduces me to his business partner. This guy picks up the phone, flicks through several screens. And says, how much do you want for it?

I don't sell it.

OK, I'll just say it. It didn't seem to me like these guys were too concerned out of any ethical standpoint where the phone came from. They also seemed pretty confident - I have to say - after looking over a phone that had been wiped, that they would be able to sell it on, no problem.

That's because of our insatiable appetite for smartphones. The black market is global, efficiently sending ill-gotten gadgets wherever demand is greatest.

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