CAMPBELL (KPIX 5) — Years of headlines of Apple Store smash-and-grabs, UPS truck robberies, thousands of car break-ins and thieves snatching laptops from cafes have pointed to a thriving black market in the Bay Area.
“What we know is that overall in the Bay Area there’s an extremely lucrative multi-million dollar market for stolen electronics,” said Marisa McKeown, supervising deputy district attorney in Santa Clara County and head of the Crime Strategies Unit.READ MORE: Wild Fan Celebration Erupts Following San Francisco 49ers Last-Second Playoff Win
The unit is responsible for identifying trends and patterns in criminal activity, to better understand the criminals and how law enforcement agents can “collectively be smarter about fighting crime.”
The New Year’s Eve death of researcher Shuo Zeng, whose laptop was snatched while working inside a Starbucks in Montclair, has sharpened the public’s awareness and uneasiness of using laptops in public spaces.
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A $3.75 million grant from Assemblymember Kansen Chu, doled out to various law enforcement agencies within Assembly District 25, has funded the creation of “Regional Fencing Initiatives,” comprised of local districts in Fremont, Newark, Santa Clara, San Jose and Milpitas and formed to specifically target “fencing operations” that purchase the stolen devices.
“The Bay Area is outpacing the rest of the state in our increase in these types of offenses. We think that is due to very lucrative fencing market that makes it very easy for our criminals to offload their product,” said McKeown,READ MORE: Officials Warn Waves, Rip Currents Expected to Be Dangerous Through Monday
According to McKeown, oftentimes thieves quickly take to the stolen goods to the fence, who pays $200 to $300 for each new Apple laptop. Older or used non-Apple devices can fetch $50 to $100 per device.
The fencing operations in the region are so robust that local criminals will travel to commit crimes and will bring the stolen items back home to sell in the Bay Area.
Once in the fence’s hands, the hard drives are erased and the laptops are prepped for shipment to southeast Asia. In a recent study of 2019 cases, the laptops have been sent to Vietnam and Cambodia. Stolen phones from a fence operation in the East Bay have turned up in Kazakhstan and Australia.
“We saw pallets of laptops were going to the docks, bound for Vietnam, and then some of these devices were showing up on foreign websites and being sold back, sometimes to American buyers,” said McKeown.
A January 2018 Fremont case illustrates the magnitude of the operations, where law enforcement agents seized a truck containing 2,000 laptops and other high end devices worth $2 million and arrested eight people.
The DA’s office has been collaborating with unspecified Silicon Valley tech companies to address the trends and discuss solutions.MORE NEWS: UPDATE: Wind-Whipped Wildfire Near Big Sur Forces Evacuations; 'Some Pretty Surreal Fire Behavior'
McKeown says the the Santa Clara County DA’s office has prosecuted several dozen cases that were “data driven and evidence supported” cases, and has a stern message for the Bay Area criminals: “We know how this works, we know that this is an issue. We know who is committing these crimes and we are coming for them.”