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Chip shortage sees smugglers cling-filming CPUs to their bodies, over $4M of parts seized

Smuggling PC components over the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge
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In a recent trend, border smugglers have turned from their usual tricks of smuggling mobile phones, and trained their eyes on PC parts. In fact, long-haul drivers have even been spotted strapping CPUs to their bodies, in order to smuggle them across borders. This is the level of desperation reached as chip shortages continue to be a feature of the contemporary industry.

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In one instance, the Customs Department of Hong Kong had intercepted two drivers crossing the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, on Jun 16. The driver and co-driver had been acting rather suspiciously, and were soon found to be literally up to their elbows in tech.

The two were attempting to smuggle a total of 256 Intel Core i7 10700 and Core i9 10900K (opens in new tab) CPUs across the border, having strapped the high-end processors all over their bodies with cling-film, says HKPC (opens in new tab).

Yet another attempt of CPU smuggling, thought to be related to the first, was thwarted just ten days later on the same crossing. This time, 52 Intel chips were spotted by the scanners, stuffed between the front seats. The total worth of the related instances is estimated at around $128,700.

And just a few days ago, Hong Kong Customs (opens in new tab) reported the seizure of a "batch of suspected smuggled goods at Lok Ma Chau Control Point." The haul included more than 2,200 CPUs, over 1,000 RAM sticks, 630-ish smartphones… oh, and some makeup for good measure. All this gear, just muddled up in crates filled with random electronic parts. The worth of which was chalked up at around $4 million.

With PC part prices moving ever-skyward, and components being so difficult to get hold of, it's likely this computer hardware smuggling trend will continue. But with a "maximum fine of $2 million and imprisonment for seven years," as noted by Hong Kong Customs, it's no wonder these dudes looked so nervous.

I was a little disappointed to learn that neither of the more recent busts involved people strapping computer parts to their bodies, but you can't have everything.

Katie Wickens
Katie Wickens

Screw sports, Katie would rather watch Intel, AMD and Nvidia go at it. Having been obsessed with computers and graphics for three long decades, she took Game Art and Design up to Masters level at uni, and has been demystifying tech and science—rather sarcastically—for two years since. She can be found admiring AI advancements, scrambling for scintillating Raspberry Pi projects, preaching cybersecurity awareness, sighing over semiconductors, and gawping at the latest GPU upgrades. She's been heading the PCG Steam Deck content hike, while waiting patiently for her chance to upload her consciousness into the cloud.