Most of us consider it a lifeline, but for two Sacramentans the kind of phone so many rely on became a crime line, according to California Attorney General Kamala Harris.
Special agents with her office’s eCrime unit say the international fraud started with a pitch to a homeless person.
Someone would approach them on behalf of accused ring leaders Shou Lin Wen and Yuting Tan, and convince them to buy the maximum number of phones allowable under one plan from Verizon or AT&T stores.
That number is five and investigators say the homeless were given up to $1,000 and were walked in to stores by ring middle men to make sure the buys were done correctly.
For buying the phones and signing onto fraudulent contracts that would never be paid out, the homeless helper was paid $20 to $100 for their trouble.
Investigators say the phones were then shipped by to Hong Kong for sale, where one iPhone can bring in thousands.
Agents say they intercepted a box of phones as part of the Wen-Tan scheme, and then were able to track down the ring leaders through shipping information.
Then they tried to do a deal of their own.
The undercover agents met Wen and Tan in the parking lot of Sacramento West Marine, pulled 400 supposedly stolen iPhones out of their trunk and said they were ready for sale.
Wen and Tan then supposedly ran to the bank and came back with $60,600 – enough for 163 phones.
That illegal pay- off is now in evidence and Wen and Tan are behind bars, each in lieu of $1 million bail.
Investigators say the pair netted $4 million with this scam over eight months.