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San Francisco police tried to get a stolen iPhone back. Now it’s in China

San Francisco resident Irina Issakova had her phone stolen, and it has now made its way to Shenzhen, China. | Courtesy Irina Issakova

Tech worker Irina Issakova was on her daily bus ride home in San Francisco one late December evening when she felt somebody grabbing her wrist. Before she knew it, a man had ripped her phone from its lanyard and dashed off the bus and into the Tenderloin. 

Bruised and shocked at the brazen robbery, Issakova made her way to a San Francisco police station to report the theft. 

She opened the Find My app on her computer and saw her iPhone wander around the Tenderloin before ending up at United Nations Plaza, a notorious marketplace for stolen goods. At that point, the iPhone became unreachable, and Issakova assumed it would be resold and never seen again.

Several days later, Issakova was surprised to see the iPhone active again at an address in the Outer Mission.

What happened next was a frustrating series of interactions between Issakova and the police department. She could see exactly where the phone was, yet was unable to get it back.

At one point, Issakova said she angrily vented to a police department dispatcher: “San Francisco is a hellhole. I’m moving out.”

“Take me with you,” the dispatcher allegedly replied.

One dispatcher told her it was against policy to knock on doors in pursuit of stolen goods, but didn’t give a reason why.

Issakova called again, another dispatcher told her she could wait nearby for police officers who were en route. So Issakova waited three hours at a nearby McDonald’s. Finally, the cops showed up and told her they had knocked on five doors that weren’t answered, and that was all they could do.

‘How much more evidence do you need?’

Issakova is frustrated that the police weren’t able to get a search warrant to retrieve her phone.

“I don't know what evidence they need to get a search warrant, but I could see exactly where the phone was,” she said. “How much more evidence do you need?” 

The San Francisco Police Department confirmed Issakova's robbery, but did not respond to multiple requests requesting their policies on using the Find My application to justify a search warrant.

After being in the southern Mission location for 14 hours, the phone went dead for a second time, and Issakova thought to herself: “Well, I tried.”

Two weeks later, she was surprised when the phone started pinging again. This time, it was in  Shenzhen, China.

It’s common for stolen phones to end up in Shenzhen. The Chinese port city is known as an electronics manufacturing hub, and a place where stolen iPhones enter the afterlife.

The southern Mission location was likely a “fence,” an operation that aggregates stolen goods to be sold online or overseas.

In 2022, District Attorney Chesa Boudin broke up a fence that had been operating out of a boba tea shop, and recovered 1,000 electronic items including cell phones and laptops. Those electronics, like Issakova’s iPhone, were likely headed overseas.

Issakova says this incident was the last straw for her. She said she’s been robbed in San Francisco twice now, and can’t shake the feeling of being violated.

“I’ve just had it,” she said. “I just want to walk around and feel safe and be in a nice place. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for. SF has a $14 billion budget. Why are we living in such conditions?”

Speaking from a vacation in Brazil, where she feels safer than she does in San Francisco, she said, “I was annoyed about it before, but I would blissfully block [the crime and street conditions] out of my mind. When this happened that was really the turning point for me. I’m moving out.”

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