Stealing things is bad and the vast majority of us can all agree on that. But stealing iPhones from an Apple Store isn't just a bad idea, it's a downright stupid one as three people now know. British Police report that they stole a total of 17 iPhones worth around £17,000 (around $21,400) from the Meadowhall Apple Store in Sheffield at around 5 pm on Monday, December 4. A matter of hours later, they'd been caught.
While it hasn't been confirmed which iPhones were taken, the high value for just 19 phones suggests that these were iPhone 15 or iPhone 15 Pro models, likely ripped from demonstration tables at the front of the Apple Store. I bought my iPhone 15 Pro Max from this very store and, like so many Apple Stores, the high-value items are so close to the front doors that it's a constant surprise that things like this don't happen more often.
But the reason it might not happen so often is that most crooks know that stealing iPhones from an Apple Store is a fool's errand because all you're really doing is painting a large target on your back, just asking to be caught.
South Yorkshire Police report that "a group of six offenders entered the store and grabbed the phones, before fleeing the shopping centre." At the time of writing only three have been apprehended, although I'm sure investigations are now centered on those remaining three.
The Meadowhall Apple Store is located next to a fire escape which may well have aided their escape, although it isn't clear if they went that route or made their way through the shopping center. The Apple Store is located equidistant from two of the main entrances to Meadowhall, neither of which is particularly far away.
Don't steal iPhones (or anything, for that matter)
But the theft is only half of the story — how these people were caught is the interesting part. According to the police, its "officers attended, and working alongside Apple staff, were able to track two of the stolen phones to near to Sheffield train station." That's a few miles away, although Meadowhall does have a smaller train station attached to it so it's possible they made their way to Sheffield station via train. "Colleagues at British Transport Police came to assist and three people were arrested at a nearby McDonalds on Farm Road."
The way in which the iPhones were tracked is the key aspect here because it's a system that is employed by Apple Stores all around the globe. These hapless thieves aren't the first to discover that stealing from an Apple Store is pointless, and they likely won't be the last.
Apple's iPhones — and indeed other high-value items — can be tracked once stolen with a system automatically phoning home to tell employees where those devices are. Think of it like Find My, but for stolen products. Those stolen products are also instantly locked down so that they are rendered useless, too.
Considering these iPhones were most likely stolen to be sold on, the fact they're locked down makes them almost useless which makes the entire process of stealing them a complete waste of time. And the sooner thieves get that into their heads, the better.
Amazingly, it seems that these thefts weren't an isolated incident, either. "The three were also connected to an earlier incident in Exeter on 3 December, in which items were also stolen from an Apple store to the value of around £10,000," the police say. That's a store hundreds of miles away from Sheffield, with multiple Apple Stores between the two. It's currently unclear why the thieves targeted Meadowhall and not one of those stores, however.
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Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.
Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.