There is nothing that jars you wide awake quite as effectively as being robbed of your phone at knife-point in the middle of the street before 8 AM on a Monday morning. Before that, I had been counting down the hours until I could crawl back into bed. After, counting to make sure I still had all my fingers.
Fear not, not every encounter with a ladrón plays out as dramatically as mine did. Still, according to the report by the National Agency of Communications (ENACOM) the phone-stealing game is going pretty strong in Argentina, with at least 5,000 thefts happening every day, generating an illegal trade valued at upwards of AR $200 million each month. And apparently it’s on the rise: 15 percent since 2014.
In a city as large and busy as Buenos Aires, this figure doesn’t actually seem too surprising, considering the amount of people passing through the Subte, colectivos and streets each day. And these professional petty criminals won’t discriminate between the girl sucked into her WhatsApp group chat on the bus or the guy playing Pokémon Go while walking to work; all it takes is a moment of distraction for the thief to seize his or her opportunity, and your smartphone.
In a statement to Clarín, the head of the cybercrime division of the Metropolitan Police of the City of Buenos Aires said: “The number of phone thefts has shot up since the rise of smartphones, and it is 100 percent certain that these stolen phones are in the hands of drug traffickers, kidnappers and other delinquents through the black market resale.”
According to Clarín, the stolen phones are taken to “laboratories” where their International Mobile Station Equipment Identity (IMEI) number is changed, and their network configuration and phone numbers changed, which makes them more difficult for people to track.
The study also indicates the areas of Buenos Aires where you are most susceptible to these thieves include the neighborhoods of Retiro, Once, Constitución and Liniers, as well as large shopping malls and train stations in the city.
This all seems pretty dismal and although you might want to go lock your phones away in a safe at home and never take them out again, the Argentine government has launched a computer program that allows you to track your phone in case of theft. In this database, phone network companies list IMEI numbers of devices that were reported stolen, which helps generate a red list that gets updated each day.
Cristina Caamaño, head of the General Investigation Unit and Technological Support to Criminal Investigation, also published a list of prosecutors tasked with investigating these mobile crimes.
Despite these recent measures, Horazio Azzolin, the prosecutor in charge of the Specialized Cybercrime Unit, says that phone theft is a huge problem that requires more than a few different tactics and personnel to combat its increasing frequency and rate. “We need more campaigns, more police monitoring areas where these crimes take place, and monitoring and investigating into these organization that change IMEI numbers. Just as several years ago most crimes of theft had to do with automobiles, now most crimes of theft are to do with phones and that same attention needs to be granted.”