It's no secret that the iPhone is a hot commodity amongst thieves; so much so that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg went so far as to attribute the rise in New York City's 2012 crime rate to the increase in iPhone-related thefts.
Underlying the prevalence of iPhone thefts is an extremely lucrative resale market. Per Gerry Smith at the Huffington Post:
Police say stolen phones bought [in San Francisco] are often resold overseas -- in part to avoid a domestic blacklist being established by American wireless carriers -- eventually fetching as much as $1,000 at markets scattered from Hong Kong to Rio de Janeiro. The total value of lost or stolen phones in the US is about $30 billion a year, according to the mobile-security firm Lookout.
While many nationwide programs designed to curb such crime have focused on preventing iPhone thefts and pursuing thieves once a crime has been reported, the San Francisco Police Department is employing a slightly different tactic.
Smith reports that the San Francisco Police Department has tasked a number of cops to go undercover and pose as resellers of stolen iPhones. The goal, naturally, is to bait and catch customers looking to get an iPhone on the cheap.
The reasoning is that if customers can no longer be sure that the shady iPhone salesman on the street isn't a cop, they'll be less inclined to purchase a stolen iPhone. In turn, would-be thieves will be less likely to steal iPhones in the first place.
"If they steal the phone, but can't sell it," San Francisco Police Captain Joe Garrity explained, "there's no market."
Naturally, ethical issues regarding these iPhone sting operations have been raised by critics, chief among them being the issue of entrapment. Furthermore, the efficacy of the program has also been called into question, with San Francisco DA George Gascon noting that there is still no proof that these undercover operations actually do anything to deter crime.
It's worth noting that Apple itself is involved with these sting operations, at least to the extent that the company loans out iPhones to the SFPD for them to use as bait in the field.
The Huffington Post article has a number of interesting examples detailing the danger inherent in running these undercover operations. It's well worth checking out over here.