December 05, 2015

Cell Phone Theft -- Big Money for Thieves in Latin America and Trepidation for Expat Victims

Cell phones are one of the most stolen items in Latin America.  The Large scale cell phone thievery operations, where criminals work in groups along the borders of Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia, rake in on average $550,000 dollars in one day, according to this Interpol report.
 

Whether it is a big time cell-phone thievery operation or a petty thief who takes your mobile phone, no one likes to be robbed by thugs.  If you are an expat living somewhere in South America we can almost bet that you have had a cell phone stolen or you know someone who has. In Ecuador 40% of personal robberies between January and August 2013 was cell phone theft.
 

The most stolen brands of cell phones are shown in this graph. (Click the photo to enlarge).

Closer to Home in Cuenca Ecuador
 

We have met numerous expats that have had things stolen in Cuenca Ecuador, from purses, money clips, wallets, necklaces and earrings, to cell phones. One very nice couple, who still live here in fact, had two cell phones stolen from them in the first week they were here!
 

What Does it Feel Like to be the Victim of Cell Phone Theft?
 

When you talk with someone who has experienced a minor trespass such as a cell phone stolen from their person, two words describe the feeling: frustration and trepidation. No one enjoys having something taken from them, even if it is just a minor incident of petty theft.  We tend to blame ourselves and feel foolish about it for days and even weeks afterwards.
 

We might feel a sense of insecurity from it and not want to stay in the new city we embarked upon. Imagine if you were knocked to the ground and hurt because a thief is trying to steal something from you?  This has happened in Cuenca; needless to say the victims that experience such crime events usually go back home.  We just have to be really aware and careful in a new and different surrounding that we’re not used to.
 

Violent crime to expats is rare in Cuenca Ecuador but it still happens from time to time; usually when someone behaves in a reckless manner and appears vulnerable. We hope that we have helped people avoid becoming a target of crime in our DIY Cuenca Landing Guide and on this Discover Cuenca Blog.
 

How Far Will a Thief Go?
 

How far will a thief go to get at your expensive phone or wallet from your person? It depends greatly on the situation. Snatch and grabs are the most common with foreigners in tourist areas because the theft takes place where there are lots of people and the thieves know where to run and easily elude police.
 

However, in more secluded areas the theft might not be a minor snatch and grab; if a thief knows you have an expensive cell phone and there’s no one around, the thief may become more daring in which personal harm is done to the person.  We just want to make our readers aware of this. We should never put theft on the back burner, thinking it will not happen to us, because seriously, it does and can happen to us.
 

Foreigners should Stay in Well Lit, Visited Areas!
 

This is why we have been saying all along that foreigners should hang out in well lit, visited areas when walking around in cities abroad. Walking off the beaten path with expensive phones, jewelry and wallets is silly to do anywhere in the world!  The reality is victims have been badly hurt or murdered for their cell phone.
 

4 Safety Guidelines for Expats Visiting and Living Abroad
 

1. Don’t flaunt expensive cell phones in the open.  Keep a cheapie cell phone for everyday use when traveling abroad. If it gets taken, $40 dollar cell phone is a lot easier to part with than $800 Smart Phone or Blackberry.
 

2. Don’t take your cell phone to the mercados. Bad idea all the way around.
 

3. Don’t keep you cell phone in your purse. Thieves watch you put your cell phone in your purse and expats have been knocked to the ground when the thief grabs the purse.  Best place for cell phone is in your front pants pocket.
 

Thieves know they can’t get at the phone very easily in your front pants pocket, unless you walk off the beaten path and they decide to mug you for your phone. That’s why the next guideline is important.
 

4. Do not walk off the well worn paths. If you must walk in secluded areas, don’t have anything valuable on your person! We suggest to not walk anywhere at night but rather take taxis to and from your destination.
 

Source: Insight Crime – Investigation and Analysis of Organized Crime
 

Until we write again…
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We're an Expat Family of Five, Living Frugal, Healthy and Happy Abroad. We live in Cuenca, Ecuador and travel the Ecuador coast whenever we get a chance. We just adventured throughout the country of Panama for five weeks! Come along and enjoy some of our experiences with us!

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