Following the storming of ‘used phone’ shops in Once and retrieval of 2,500 stolen phones, authorities are putting in place a scheme designed to deter mobile phone theft in Argentina. Upon capturing said phones, the district attorney in charge of the operation called for the potential victims to send their details in an attempt to match the owners up to their stolen belongings. Three thousand emails later, it became apparent that the problem was on too wide a scale to fix this way. In 2016, there were 4,700 phones stolen per day across Argentina.

In response, the Government is creating an official register to prevent stolen phones from being used. This measure is primarily for users of Pay As You Go services, as those with contract phones are already listed as the owner and have certain protections from their networks. In Argentina, Pay As You Go customers make up almost 80% of mobile phone users, so most people are currently without this level of security. The new scheme allows phone owners to register their phone with a line that can be used to block the handset in the case of a robbery, so that it can no longer be used. Of course, this won’t stop theft itself, but if it becomes widespread it could act as a powerful deterrent. If thieves know that phones are unlikely to yield any profit, they’ll be less motivated to steal them in the first place. “The handset is reduced to a paperweight or a music player. This discourages the crime, because the resale value is lost,” said a source from the Ministry of Security.

In order to validate the line for their handsets, users will have to call *234# and provide certain information, including their DNI and the answers to certain security questions. These will vary according to the accompany but will generally include details about nationality and date of birth. Authorizing the line allows it to be linked to the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI), a unique code that identifies each handset and enables it to be blocked in the case of loss or theft. Sign up to the initiative, catchily named “Register Your Phone and Talk Safely”, can also be carried out in fixed locations, the first of which has opened on Rivadavia and General Paz.

In the event of a robbery, the owner must report the crime to *910, at which point the IMEI can be blocked and the code will go on a blacklist. If someone tries to put a new SIM in the phone, they will receive a message saying that the phone is not authorized. At this point it becomes very difficult to use the handset; although it is possible to tamper with a phone’s IMEI, authorities note that this requires advanced specialist knowledge and the measure will certainly remove the resale value of phones for the average Joe Thief.