London - Border officials are used to spotting drug couriers, but they are keeping their eyes peeled for a new sort of smuggler: the iPhone mule.

A highly competitive black market for smartphones has emerged in Latin America because excessive import taxes mean new devices can cost more than £1 000 (about R18 000) - vastly more than the average income.

So criminals have started stealing handsets, such as Apple iPhones, from the US and smuggling them into Colombia, Mexico and Brazil.

There, the phones are cleaned up to seem like new, hidden inside fruit and milk cartons and distributed into neighbouring countries on trucks and buses. They are sold for £200 each.

The worldwide market for stolen smartphones is worth £18-billion. And in Colombia, at least 20 people have been killed for their phones in the past two years.

Police are increasingly using surveillance and informers to catch the smugglers.

Meanwhile, Apple and Samsung are under pressure to install “kill switches” on their sought after products to render them useless if they are stolen. - Daily Mail