iLost and uFound: The Secondary Phone Market

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“Money is numbers and numbers never end.  If it takes money to be happy, the search for happiness will also never end.”-Bob Marley
Quality television IS possible to find, you just need to know the right places to look.  Fortunately, Vice Media has ended my quest for qual with its launch of Viceland; a broadcasting station that specializes in hot topic social issues including climate change, sexual orientation, music, food, travel, lifestyle, and all of the major Vices that the people of Planet Earth surrender themselves to.  With its unique POV documentary style programs, Viceland hits the hammer on the head when it comes to these hot topic taboos that, until millennials and their relentless need to surface anything and everything, seldom were spoken of until late.
One of their banner broadcasts, “Black Market,” a documentary series hosted and narrated by Michael K. Williams (formerly Omar in The Wire and currently Freddie in The Night Of) follows the plight of the individual who finds their means to an end on the darker side of legality.  CmaWC1_W8AALYsB.jpgWilliams highlights the struggle of people who earn their bread and butter on the black markets, a term Webster defines as “illicit trade in goods or commodities in violation of official regulations;also :  a place where such trade is carried on.”  While most global citizens earn their livelihoods through legal means, filling W2s and surrendering a baffling amount of their income to Uncle Sam, many people find themselves at a moral crossroads, where the grass is greener across taxable tracks.  Whether it be grand theft auto in Newark, unlicensed Geoduck farming in South Africa, or the secondary market for avocados, Williams tracks the plethora of business that happens “off the books.”
While the people of Viceland have done a phenomonal job at showcasing the desprateness that trails debt and financial responsibility, I recently fell victim myself to black market happenings and was left scratching my head…so here I am, providing some answers to what the Meme-friendly internet trolls would call First World Problems.  While shooting some b-ball outside of school, one such fellow was up to no good, started causing trouble (cough, cough sorry Will) and POOF, my iPhone 6 was gone with the wind.  Reflecting on the events, I recall a shady man hovering precariously close to my gym bag…simple algebra shows that X = he took my damn phone…in clear day light…I’m such a loser.  While I am hosting a pity party later tonight, entertainment provided by Connor McGregor and Nate Diaz, I’m channeling my inner Michael K. Williams and scribing my own episode of Black Market.  So, without further a doe, I give you
Act 1: Commonality
I filed a police report with an officer who was on duty in the park where the theft occurred.  Hwhienwhbwizpke looked at me the way my mother did whenever I brought home a C- on a health paper, you know the look I’m talking about.  The eyes that just scream, “I’m not mad I’m just disappointed.”  Officer Perez informed me that this was about the 10th occurrence this summer.  Boy plays basketball.  Boy sidelines his cell phone.  Boy remembers white man can’t jump.  Boy comes back to find backpack cleaned of its contents.  Boy dreads calling his father off strangers phone to break the bad news…SO SHITTY.
Fast Facts:
  • The LA Times reported in 2014 that 4.5 million smartphones were lost or stolen in the U.S. in 2013, up from 2.8 million in 2012.
  • Prompted the Smartphone Theft Prevention Act of 2015 (we’ll get back to this)
 Act 2: The Procedure
Don’t you hate when someone seems so bothered when you make them do their job?  Like when you tell the cab driver you live Uptown?  Or when order a sandwich at the deli that requires the toaster?  The reaction I got when I asked the Cop to file a police report mirrored the horror of telling your 9 year old cousin SANTA ISN’T REAL!  While he did hold up his end to protect and to serve and coddled me through the procedure, his lackluster energy whilst creating the claim spoke volumes. cl6crcgdooyuq I wish he was just honest with me and told me to not waste my time.  False hope is a toxic emotion; waiting for pigs to fly is a dead-mans mission.  He went on to inform me that my cell phone would be integrated into a missing property database shared through the 5 borough police department.  My number was recorded along with the specs of the iPhone.  Upon filing the complaint, he scratched his head and told me that there is roughly a 5% the phone returns home to its rightful owner.  Give it to me straight man!  Just tell me to go buy lottery tickets, because you and I both know the odds of me getting my phone back are slim to fucking none!
Act 3: The Crime
We’ve all sat through the monotonous lectures given to us by people who fancy themselves world travelers.  Pick pocketing isn’t a craft as much as it is an art.  People devote their entire lives to mastering slight of hand, a magicians claim to fame and a pick pocketers pay day.  With proper training and the aptitude for larceny, this form of “magic” can escalate a man from 7 train scammer to Charles Dicken’s Artful Dodger himself. The best of the best are possible of sliding a women’s engagement ring right off her finger, without the bride to be even noticing that her husband-who likely went to Jared-was just robbed of 3 months pay in the blink of an eye.  Under Section 155.25 of the New York Penal Code, theft of valuables under $1000 is categorized as Petit Larceny, (a.k.a Petty Larceny because you’re a petty asshole) a crime punishable by up to 1 year in state prison.  Other names for this form of theft include shoplifting and scum-baggery to the 10th degree.  We’ve all seen the YouTube videos of Walmart creatures shaking out their denim jackets, leading to a seemingly endless flow of groceries dropping from their trousers like hot cakes…or watermelons…or prime rib cuts…or Stacys pita chips…YUM!  Regardless, the 5 finger discount is older than Apple and Macintosh products and is likely here to stay until the phrase, “Big Brother is always watching,” resonates a little deeper.
The Art of Misdirection is All Too Easy For Some
Fast Facts:
  • Shoplifters say they are caught an average of only once in every 48 times they steal. They are turned over to the police 50 percent of the time.
  • Approximately 3 percent of shoplifters are “professionals” who steal solely for resale or profit as a business.
  • Habitual shoplifters steal an average of 1.6 times per week.
  • The average value of property taken during larceny-thefts was $988 per offense. Applying this average value to the estimated number of larceny-thefts shows that the loss to victims nationally was over $6.1 billion.
Act 4: The Grey Area
A black market comes into being when a problem can be solved by some form of action, where the reward for completing said action is superior in value when compared to the negativeness of the consequence.  Once again, I theorize that, a black market comes into being when a problem can be solved by some form of action, where the reward for completing said action is superior in value when compared to the negativeness of the consequence…pretty good right?  When it comes to cell phones, theft, and resale…the variables to the formula are pretty elementary to fill in.
  • Problem:  people need money, people need phones, people are willing to spend less money on phones.
  • Solution: Cell phone resale, pick pocketing, secondary markets for cell phones
  • Reward: lucrative margins on purchase or theft versus resale
  • Consequence: 1 year in jail, fines for larceny, getting your ass whooped by the person you tried to steal from
Black Market: the iPhone 6S retails for 849$, according to BestBuy and Apple Stores.  The “purchase price” of petit larceny is 0$.  Essentially, each successful “lift” can net a man with sticky fingers just south of 900$, a handsome pay day by anyones standards.  The consequence for getting caught though, certainly outweighs the benefit one can reap from a successful pick pocket.  HOWEVER, the odds of actually getting caught and prosecuted are sliiiiiiiiiiiiiiim.  In order for me to catch and charge my perpetrator, I would have had to catch him in the act and convince him to return the phone, either through force, intimidation, or through reason (not likely).l0myrqnd7y7nalhjs  Understandably, my readers, most of whom are viewing this from their laptop while basking in their money machine that is an air conditioning unit, will chalk up this equation as “pointless.” Unfortunately, we all know that money can make a man do some crazy things.  Bills and debt put 18 year old girls up on stripper polls and send men to local piggly-wigglys locked and loaded ready to forfeit their life for a cash register.  The benefit may not outweigh the consequence under normal circumstances, but once you add the minute odds of getting caught and factor in one of mankind’s most powerful drivers, desperateness to our little math question, it makes sense why phone theft is an urban pandemic.
Act 5: The Perfect Lift
My Bachelors degree in business has taught me a good amount…always under promise and over deliver, don’t squeeze your secretaries butt, and that some content is NSFW, ect ect.  The degree didn’t, however, tell me how to actually MAKE money.  No, economics taught me the science of supply and demand and finance taught me about the time value of money.  While my 60K/year education may have gotten me through the doors of a publicly traded company, making the almighty dollar was never part of the curriculum.  Essentially, paper chasing is learned in the streets, school just gives you a competitive advantage and a quiver of lessons that the savvy entrepreneur can draw from at a whim.  While I am no more than a neophyte when it comes to white collar commission hunting, I can say with confidence that making money is all about margins.  A margin is simply cost compared to value.  Buy price compared to sale price…the amount of resources and time you put into something and the amount of resources and time you can ask from someone in exchange for said good/product.
When a young entrepreneur steps foot in front of the likes of James O’Leary and Barbara Corcoran on ABC’s hit series Shark Tank, the margins of the product are ALWAYS a source of inquiry.  Margins are why U.S. business’s outsource their labor overseas, why Nike has Taiwanese 12 year olds doing the seam-work on your Air Jordans,  and why every gift under the Christmas tree is branded MADE IN CHINA.  402061_orig.jpgThe Perfect Lift for a cell phone theft is essentially the face value of the phone.  If you can buy something for 0$ (I wouldn’t even call that buying) and sell it for $800+, with training and some devotion of your time, you’ll be sitting court side before you can say Kareem Abdul-Jabar.  Jack an iPhone from some kid playing ball in central park, head down to Canal Street, discount the item just below what it retails for, and BOOM, you’re flipping phones like it was a 2003 Motorola Razr.  The businessman knows his margins and does everything in his power to maximize them!  It’s the precise reason why there are labor laws and standards and it’s the root of litigation when product quality is subpar…MAR-GEEEEEEEEEENS!
Act 6: Checks and Balances
“You can bring a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.”  In other words (loosely), you can make something illegal but you can’t stop it from happening.  Eazy E and Dr. Dre screamed it loud and proud, FUCK THA POLICE.  Since it first hit the airwaves, it’s transgressed into an attitude, rather than a baseless proclamation.  Rule breaking is fun!  Always has been and always will be, but when rules being broken has such detriment on others, that’s when the enforcers must step in.  Noted before, the astronomically high theft rates prompted congress to pass Smartphone Theft Prevention Act of 2015.

Amends the Communications Act of 1934 to require commercial mobile service providers to make available on smartphones, in coordination with smartphone manufacturers and operating system providers, a function that an account holder may use remotely to: (1) delete or render inaccessible all information on the smartphone relating to the account holder, (2) render the smartphone inoperable on the global networks of such service providers, (3) prevent reactivation or reprogramming without a passcode or similar authorization after the smartphone has been rendered inoperable or has been subject to an unauthorized factory reset, and (4) restore personal information from the smartphone onto a compatible or interoperable device.

SparkNotes: Wireless providers must now allow phones to be accessed via remote locations (personal computers) which allows a phone to be locked and disabled from a medium other than the phone itself.  The take away from this legislation is that it isn’t increasing the punishment for petit larceny and pick pocketing, no the 1 year sentence is still the jist of it.  Rather than make the cons more excessive, legislates instead used their judicial power to cut away at the pros…I think that’sreally fucking cool/smart.  Pavlov and his dogs experimented with positive and negative reinforcement, a behavioral study that I’ll likely carry into my parenting style.  Negatives and consequences don’t catalyze change for an activity that predates the rule.  Once again, people will always find a means to an end…slap prison sentences on the means and sure, it might help.  BUT, make the means seldom in comparison to the end it must achieve, and kiss the means goodbye.
Act 7: The Cloud
Congresses 2eldabhoqklc7u015 requirement for remote access opened the floodgates for wireless providers and their newfound ability to disincentive phone theft.  When we study iPhones and Apple in particular, one can look at the unveiling of IOS7 as the turning point, as the company not only unveiled a new operating system, but it debuted the almighty and misunderstood iCloud.
The Cloud has been a source of confusion since its birth, as Jason Seigal proclaims in his blockbuster Sex Tape “Nobody understands the cloud, It’s a fucking mystery!”  For the most part, he’s right…so allow me to break it down into laymen’s, pre-war, grandma’s terms for those not driving VW Buggies for the Geek Squad.  The Cloud isn’t some metaphysical form of perspiration that ruins a July beach day as much as it is a terrestrial warehouse for computing abilities.  Don’t think vapors and magic, think warehouse and wireless fidelity.  The cloud is just a building, flushed with mega-computers, data collectors, and network servers that essentially crowd sources computer technology.  Rather than having a computer operate stagnantly, the cloud creates a centralized dispatch system, that allows people to share information collectively.  Basically, your computer now has access to other computers data which are made accessible to all users who have the key to the lock.  Let’s not go down the internet security highway and assume a 14 year old World of Warcraft addict now has access to the nuclear codes…no this is good in our backlash against the black market.
Act 8: Keep Chiseling at the Marble
While the man who made off with my iPhone certainly wasn’t wearing Brookes Brothers, this man was about his business.  HOV cried that he’s a business man, not a businessman…so to the guy who forced me to the AT&T and Apple store thrice already, I salute the hustle.  You got away with it, but I laugh as I write this because your MARGINS on the transaction are sub McDonalds hourly.  Apple and the government didn’t up the risk for phone theft, the abilities of the iCloud and approved legislation just slashed at the knees of the reward.  The iCloud offers a virtual connection between my phone and my computer.  Upon theft, the experienced victim will log onto iCloud and activate “Lost Mode.”  The rightful owner has the ability to play sounds and set a display message with a family friends number to call if the device is found…great tools if the phone is LOST but far from useful if it was in fact stolen.  iCloud Lock in conjunction with a passcode on the phone essentially renders your 800$ communication platform into a glass and steal paper weight.  Remote access via the cloud allows for the owner to make the device unusable.  Without the passcode or access to ones iCloud account, congrats, you just risked a year of your life holding someones pocket for the worlds most expensive beer coaster.
Find My iPhone, PLEASE
Once again, there’s always a means to an end…someone can surely tutor themself to an Anonymous level of hacking abilities and navigate the tricky motherboard and key-to-lock technology all iPhones come with.  Plug in the stolen, iCloud locked phone, employ an MIT AZN and yeah, maybe you get the thing back to working order…but remember, Apple is a manufacturer not a service provider.
Act 9: I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends
Enter AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and the rest of the peanut gallery.  These are the guys who charge you 15$/GB every time you go over your monthly data allotment.  Likely the place you bought your iPhone and likely the entity you’ll drive by shoot upon receiving your families bill.  Apple MUST allow these providers to retail their cell phones before they can start selling, so you best believe these guys will bend at the knee for Steve Jobs and the Genius Bar.  ALL cell phones come with an IMEI or International Mobile Equipment Identity.  Think social security numbers but for cell phones.  Well just like the Islamic Extremist who tried to conceal a pipe bomb on a 747, cell phones can be BLACKLISTED.  When you submit the claim for stolen property and go through the due diligence to signify that mine is no longer mine, consider your mobile device a fugitive of law and if you’ve watched any Scorcese movie, a fugitive never goes to the cops.  So, once Johnny Fingers reaches his slimy hand into your bag and lifts your cell phone, assuming you have the common sense to install Find My iPhone and enable the passcode, find comfort in the fact that you can laugh and say “Congrats, you played yourself.”
Act 10: Scraping The Bucket
Technology is the driving force of mankind these days; politics will attempt to offer leadership and society will always subconsciously create invisible laws that everyone follows to stick to the quo, but again, in the 21st century, technology is the enzyme of our future.  In the case of the street cell phone stealer, technology and the concepts of business has all but outlawed theft by means of risk/reward analysis.  The competent owner will utilize Apples infrastructure to assure that your iPhone is your personal Excalibur.  Like Thor’s hammer, only the worthy can wield its power…so make your password something other than all 1’s or your mommies bday.  Lock it down like Fort Knox and insure the bitch, so that when your phone does go home with someone else (slut!) just know that it was far better off when it was in your hands.  At the end of the day, my phone will be chopped and screwed like a Skrillex beat.  Like an old car or defective rifle, it will be sold for parts…screen, motherboard, camera lens, and memory device will all go their separate ways like graduating seniors.  Back to Business 101: of course Apple harnessed the power of MAR-GEEEEEEENS.  An iPhones parts cost no more than 1/3 of its sale price.  Which means the $900 lift, best case scenario will fetch you $300 IF YOU’RE LUCKY.  So, my petit larcenist friend, go back to the equation I raised earlier and ask yourself “was it worth it?” Didn’t think so.
In summation, this long winded retort is just a microcosm for the issue at hand.  There are a million ways to make your buck in the global economy; some methods lie in the realm of legality, others do not.  Whenever a window of opportunity presents itself that allows for quick-hit fiscal gains, you better believe that there’s someone willing to roll the dice and try to hit the jackpot.  Michael K. Williams silver-lines all of his episodes of Black Market with a sense of empathy; rather than shaming the participants in the Black Market, he gives them the benefit of the doubt and a glimpse of understanding into the circumstances that pushes a man to extremes.  They say money is the root of all evil and that a paper chase is a race that is simply un-winnable.  Yes, it takes money to eat, but they also say the best things in life are free.

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