How to Use Apple's Return Policy to Steal Money...and Get Caught

Bad GuyApple has a very generous return and repair policy on its devices. It turns out it's so generous it doesn't take a genius to figure out how to exploit it to make some illicit profit. Take the story of one Edward Hornsey, an enterprising young man of 24 years. He figured out how to make more than US$42,000, but he didn't figure out how to do it without getting caught.

The short version of what Mr. Hornsey did was to advertise that he wanted to buy broken iPhones. Turns out people were willing to sell to him, too, He would then send them into Apple, who replaced them with new—probably refurbished, but the UK's The Mirror reported them as "new"—units that he turned around and sold.

At a big profit. And he did it 51 times.

Genius, right? Well, no. On the one hand, Apple apparently didn't have any kind of cross referencing system that caught just how many "broken" iPhones one man was returning. On the other hand, 45 of those devices were reported lost or stolen, and there is a system for that.

It's probably an app.

Accordingly, the police nabbed the guy and charged him with laundering stolen goods, and they were able to find him because he used his home address, his phone number, and his bank account for all of the transactions.

Genius, right?

Here's the thing: Mr. Hornsey himself checked the serial numbers against a database maintained by England's National Mobile Property Register. But even when he discovered they were "dodgy," he sent them into Apple anyway.

So clever. So very, very clever. it's so clever he earned himself a six month sentence this week.

"[Mr.] Hornsey exploited a loophole in Apple's replace or repair service," Prosecutor Laurence Jones said in court proceedings, according to The Mirror. "He made a profit and an undeclared living dealing in second hand mobile phones."

He added, "This was a calculated fraud and you knew exactly what you were doing—if people like you were completely honest fewer mobile phones would be stolen. It is an extremely large problem in this country at this present time, they are magnets for theft."

The reality is that Apple and Google both have taken great strides in eliminating the market for stolen iPhones and Android devices (lol—what market for stolen Android devices?) by making them easy to remotely brick if they are lost or stolen.

The real irony here is that Mr. Hornsey is doing time by making life easy for the thieves who stole most of those devices in the first place. Those thieves were slightly smarter because they found someone willing to pay them for their useless, trackable stolen goods.

Pro Tip: if it seems to good to be true, it probably is.