Inside the Vast (and Growing) Global Trade in Stolen Smart Phones

Phones stolen on American streets can end up in pockets thousands of miles away.

WATCH: In Brazil, where a legal iPhone has the world's highest price tag, a smartphone black market has emerged to satisfy demand for the device.

As the head of customs enforcement for São Paulo, Brazil, Breno Andrade Soares Silva has seized illegal goods of every imaginable type: guns, drugs, cigarettes, clothes, electronics, boats—even airplanes. Usually the items are destroyed, auctioned, or donated to schools. But sometimes, when deemed appropriate, the seizures find their way back to the customs agents for official business.

One such seizure stays with Silva throughout the day: an Apple iPhone. It’s his official work phone. It came to Brazil illegally and ended up in Silva’s pocket after customs caught it being smuggled in.

“Sometimes we need a phone to work inside Receita [customs]. Or when we leave for an operation, then we pick up a phone that was confiscated,” says Silva. “I have no way to track where that phone came from.”

The growth of mobile phones
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