Processor and graphics card smuggling flourishes with semiconductor shortage

Hong Kong customs have just seized several hundred thousand euros of contraband electronic equipment. As the semiconductor shortage continues, traffic in processors, RAMs, and graphics cards is booming.

The semiconductor shortage is not about to end. And in the face of ever-increasing demand for semiconductors, graphics cards and other technological equipment, illegal trafficking is on the rise.

CPUs attached to cling film

On July 7, 2021, the HKEPC Hardware website explained that Hong Kong Customs had arrested two cross-border drivers who were trying to smuggle no less than 256 high-end Intel processors. In the photos taken by the authorities, we can see that the two drivers had glued the components around their calves and torsos using cling film.

Hong Kong customs photos // Source: HKEPC

Ten days later, at the same place, customs seized 52 Intel processors hidden between the seats of a car for a value of around 15,000 euros. But it was on July 5, 2021 that the authorities made their largest seizures with 2,200 processors, 1,000 RAM modules and 630 smartphones. A treasure with an estimated value of 4 million Hong Kong dollars (approximately 500,000 euros)

Earlier this year, a boat full of 300 graphics cards was seized, still in Hong Kong.

The shadow of cryptocurrencies

The price of processors, graphics cards and RAMs has jumped dramatically in recent months, due to the scarcity that is crippling the digital industry. Components are hard to produce, hard to find, and the black market is priced at stratospheric prices due to low supply and huge demand.

Many of these components do not arrive in traditional computers, but in machines used to mine cryptocurrencies. The trend is not new, but the race for bitcoin, ethereum and all these new dematerialized currencies, has accentuated the effects of the shortage.

Mining now requires a lot of power and resources, hence the choice to smuggle high-end processors.

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