Bay Area Fencing Operations Flourishing
$$$ Asian Black Market Driving Laptop Theft Epidemic in Bay Area
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.
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.
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,
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
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.
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.”
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