Hong Kong iPad Smugglers Use Batman Trick

In a scene stolen from The Dark Knight, electronics smugglers in Hong Kong used a faux-zipline to ferry iPads and iPhones across the river to mainland China.
During the opening sequence in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, The Joker's henchmen fire a bolt with a rope attached from inside one building to the roof of the bank they're about to rob. They use the rope as a zipline to send their gear and themselves across the street to the roof of the bank, supposedly unseen.

Smugglers caught recently in Hong Kong hoped to pull of a similar caper (only with iPads and iPhones), but didn't quite get away with it.

According to a Chinese news report that was posted to YouTube, smugglers in Hong Kong used a crossbow to fire a bolt with rope attached across the Shatoujiao River to a building in Shenzhen. They then sent iPads and iPhones in tote bags across the river -- a distance of 300 meters -- via a rope-and-pulley system, silently in the night. Creative, yes.

What's the big deal with shuffling electronics from Hong Kong to mainland China? Well, getting the gear across the river this way let the smugglers avoid the 20% import fee that would have been collected at the border had the electronics made the trip legitimately.

The police were tipped off and the smugglers eventually caught with more than 50 iPhones and 50 iPad 2s, worth a total of approximately $47,000. Six suspects were arrested. According to the Wall Street Journal, the 64GB WI-Fi iPad 2 costs $703 in Hong Kong. Across the river it costs $821, or about 17% more.

Apple products are popular for scammers and smugglers. In December 2010, Chinese authorities nabbed 14 women attempting to mule 88 iPads and 340 mobile phones from Hong Kong to Shenzhen without paying taxes. Last month, a handful of fake Apple stores were discovered operating in China. The fake stores duplicated Apple's real stores almost perfectly.

In the U.S., there have been a rash of smash-and-grab burglaries at Apple stores. In December 2010, there were four separate robberies at Apple Stores located in Greenwich, Conn., Woodcliff, N.J., Pittsburgh and Naperville, Ill. These robberies saw the theft of iPhones, iPads, and Apple laptop computers. In April, a suspect was shot and killed by a security guard during a botched robbery of an Apple Store in Chula Vista, Calif.

Add these all up, and its clear that demand for Apple's products is high -- even in the black (or perhaps gray) market. Given the high price tag many of them carry, it's no surprise that those without the means to buy them legitimately would seek out other ways to acquire such coveted tech.

Editor's Choice
Brian T. Horowitz, Contributing Reporter
Samuel Greengard, Contributing Reporter
Nathan Eddy, Freelance Writer
Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing