Confessions of an iPhone Thief: How He Breaks Into Phones

Aaron Johnson’s story is a chilling reminder of the fragility of our digital security. His journey from a desperate homeless man to a cunning thief who made thousands from stolen iPhones offers a rare glimpse into the underworld of high-tech crime.

The Birth of a High-Tech Thief

Aaron Johnson’s descent into the world of crime was fueled by desperation (ref). Homeless and struggling to provide for his children, Johnson found himself drawn to the lucrative world of phone theft.

His method was simple yet effective: target individuals in bars, observe their passcodes, and then make off with their iPhones. This tactic proved alarmingly successful, leading Johnson down a path of no return.

Art of Deception

Johnson’s strategy relied heavily on social engineering. Posing as a drug dealer or a rapper, he would engage with potential victims, mostly college students, to gain their trust. This approach allowed him to not only steal their phones but also their passcodes, giving him full access to their digital lives.

His victims, often intoxicated and unsuspecting, were easy prey for his well-rehearsed ruse.

Exploiting Apple’s Security Flaws

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Image Credit: sdx15/Shutterstock.

Once in possession of the phone and passcode, Johnson acted swiftly. He would reset the iCloud password, lock the original owner out, and enable ‘Find My iPhone,’ making the device his own.

The process only took seconds, allowing him to plunder bank accounts and credit lines and even use Apple Pay for extravagant shopping sprees.

Johnson’s proficiency in navigating Apple’s security features was both impressive and terrifying.

Lucrative Business of iPhone Theft

Johnson’s criminal enterprise didn’t stop at data theft. He also profited from selling the stolen iPhones.

He could make up to $900 per phone by targeting the higher-end models, netting an astonishing $20,000 on a good weekend.

This operation wasn’t a solo act; Johnson was part of a more extensive network, which, according to police reports, may have stolen between one and two million dollars.

Apple’s Response & Future of Digital Security

Following extensive reporting on these crimes, Apple introduced the ‘Stolen Device Protection’ mode in iOS 17.3 (ref), adding a sophisticated layer of security against iPhone theft. This feature is designed to protect users when their private passcode is compromised.

If the iPhone is at an unfamiliar location, Stolen Device Protection requires both the passcode and Apple’s FaceID for sensitive actions like viewing stored passwords or wiping the phone. This means thieves can’t change or access settings with just the passcode.

Additionally, changing the user’s Apple ID password or removing FaceID involves a mandatory one-hour delay and a subsequent FaceID check.

Despite these advancements, vulnerabilities in third-party apps like Venmo and the functionality of Apple Pay still pose risks (ref).

A Cautionary Tale

Aaron Johnson’s tale is more than just a story of crime; it’s a wake-up call about the importance of digital security. As he serves his 94-month sentence, Johnson reflects on his actions regretfully, acknowledging the harm he caused his victims.

His story serves as a reminder to stay vigilant, protect our digital identities, and understand that in the world of technology, sometimes the biggest loophole is us.

Martha A. Lavallie
Martha A. Lavallie
Author & Editor | + posts

Martha is a journalist with close to a decade of experience in uncovering and reporting on the most compelling stories of our time. Passionate about staying ahead of the curve, she specializes in shedding light on trending topics and captivating global narratives. Her insightful articles have garnered acclaim, making her a trusted voice in today's dynamic media landscape.