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Journal: Sending expensive stuff abroad

Journal by igny
This is a summary of events which happened in April-June 2008.

In April I sent iPhones to a relative in Russia, so that he could unlock them and use them there. Because I did not trust the package to Russian mail, I purposefully paid extra $150 to Fedex, trusting its reliability. Because I did not want to draw attention of thieves to the shipment, I described the contents as 2 GSM phones worth mere $100. I knew there was a chance that the Russian customs might open the parcel and fine me for trying to avoid the custom fees, but I was willing to take that chance.

The package arrived empty to my relative. Because he paid attention, the loss was established in presence of the Fedex courier. My relative tried to contact Fedex officials via email urging them to conduct an investigation while the case was hot, but his emails were ignored (probably filtered as spam).

When he contacted Moscow office of Fedex by phone, they told him some interesting things, which we did not know before, and probably everyone who sends expensive things to Russia should know.

Technically, iPhones are not prohibited to enter Russia, and customs should not confiscate them as a contraband. (Even if customs confiscated the iPhones, they should have included the official paper explaining this decision with a reference to some laws which were broken). However Fedex does not accept the iPhones for shipment to Russia, because it is well aware of the widespread stealing that occurs in Russia. Apple's iPhones and iPods are particularly prone to getting lost along the route.

In Russia, Fedex does not "personally" deliver the parcels. It has to hire local sorting companies to deal with customs. Outside Moscow and St.Petersbug they have Russian delivery companies as contractors. DHL, UPS and other courier services do so as well, no one is immune. After the parcel is out of hands of Fedex, a lot of people have access to the mail at the sorting stations or planes, and clearly some of them could not be trusted. Quite possibly, the thieves are protected by the local police there, and perhaps have contacts in Russian customs.

Again Fedex (according to their representative in Moscow office) is aware of this situation. They should not have accepted the iPhones for shipment, but because I described the contents as cheap GSM phones, the system accepted that.

What I am trying to say is that Fedex are not bad guys here. If I sent the parcel to Moscow or St.Petersburg rather than some city in the middle of nowhere, the contents would likely be delivered. What I am upset about was that I could have used just regular airmail, which costs some $20 and delivers in the same 2 weeks. But because I did not trust the regular mail, I willingly overpaid $150, yet gained not extra security at all.

After some month of investigation, Fedex accepted the liability (did no acknowledge the theft though, only generic loss), returned me the shipping costs and $100 for which the shipment was insured. My own insurance (which covers my property worldwide) covered the rest of the loss.

Now regarding the security or iPhones in general. When I was buying the iPhones, the representative of ATT assured me that iPhones were secure in a sense that if it got stolen the thieves would not be able to use it. I knew that was bollocks, but I decided to follow up on their claim after my iPhones were lost. The iPhones do have the IMEI code, which I got after contacting Apple to report about the stolen iPhones. Theoretically, the cell companies have the ability to reject a phone with a certain IMEI code from being registered in their network. Theoretically, they even can track the lost phones if they are being used and, with help of police, recover them.

In practice, however, no one does that. I asked police, Apple, ATT, they all said that there is no way to return the phones from the thieves or even to stop them from using the phones. The phones come with a SIM card, and if it was registered with ATT, then yes, ATT can ban that particular SIM card from their network. Their sales pitch was that since iPhones can be locked to using this SIM card essentially it can be bricked when stolen. But as nearly everyone knows the iPhones can be unlocked, and used with any SIM card without much difficulty. The iPhones have no security from thieves in USA, what can you tell about Russia then?

You can call this irony.

"Who cares if it doesn't do anything? It was made with our new Triple-Iso-Bifurcated-Krypton-Gate-MOS process ..."

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