AP

Mexicans buy fake cellphones to hand over in muggings

May 21, 2019, 6:36 PM | Updated: 8:22 pm
In this May 15, 2019 photo, a driver maneuvers through the narrow streets of San Miguel Teotongo on...
In this May 15, 2019 photo, a driver maneuvers through the narrow streets of San Miguel Teotongo on his bus where a pair of police officers ride along to protect him and his passengers from armed robbery in the Iztapalapa borough of Mexico City. Trigger-happy bandits regularly attack the buses that ferry people from the poorer outlying suburbs to jobs in the city center. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Armed robberies have gotten so common aboard buses in Mexico City that commuters have come up with a clever if disheartening solution: Many are buying fake cellphones, to hand over to thieves instead of their real smartphones.

Costing 300 to 500 pesos apiece — the equivalent of $15 to $25 — the “dummies” are sophisticated fakes: They have a startup screen and bodies that are dead ringers for the originals, and inside there is a piece of metal to give the phone the heft of the real article.

That comes in handy when trying to fool trigger-happy bandits who regularly attack the buses, big and small, that ferry people from the poorer outlying suburbs to jobs in the city center.

The scene is repeated over and over again, courtesy of the cameras that many buses now carry that record the assaults, often late at night or in the early morning: Sleepy passengers are seen bouncing along in the jitneys when one or two of the men aboard suddenly pull masks over their faces. One will pull out a gun while his accomplice passes down the aisle, often with his own gun, demanding valuables.

“You’re all screwed now! Don’t move or you’re dead! Cellphones and wallets!” barks a thief in one recent video. Time and again, those who resist or refuse are hit in the head with a pistol, or simply shot and left to bleed on the floor of the bus.

In this May 15, 2019 photo, Axel, a vendor at an indoor electronics market, shows his dummy mobile phones which people buy in the case they are mugged and have to hand over their phones, in Mexico City. Axel, who asked for his last name not to be used for fear police accusing him of selling fake merchandise, said all of his customers know they are buying fakes. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

Martha Patricia Rociles Estrada, a schoolteacher from the low-income suburb of Nezahualcoyotl, was robbed herself. Now, she says, most city residents make their daily commutes in fear. “Getting on public transportation is now a risk,” Rociles Estrada said. “You get on, but you never know if you’re going to return.”

“Now you have to be careful to carry money, because if you don’t, the thieves get angry and you run the risk that they’ll shoot you if you’re not carrying money.”

There were an average of 70 reported violent muggings every day in Mexico City in the first four months of 2019. About two-thirds were committed against pedestrians, with the rest split almost evenly between bus passengers and assaults on motorists stopped at lights or caught in traffic jams. Between 2017 and 2018, such assaults rose by about 22 percent.

But when Rociles Estrada was robbed at gunpoint several years ago, most people weren’t carrying costly smartphones around with them.

“They just took whatever I had of value, my change purse, that was all,” she recalled

The advent of smartphones changed all that. Now, many people carry a device worth hundreds of dollars in their pocket, and one that may also hold their bank or credit card information.

That’s where “dummy” vendors like Axel come in. Axel says he sells three or four dummy phones a week out of his stall in a downtown electronics marketplace, next door to a colonial college building that dates to 1767.

Axel, who asked his full name not be used for fear police would accuse him of selling fake merchandise, said all of his customers know they are buying fakes.

“It’s useful for robberies, the large number of muggings happening in Mexico City,” said Axel. “They say ‘hand over your cellphone, give me everything’, and people know now they have to hand over the phone quick, in a matter of seconds, so they hand over these phones and often the thieves don’t realize it.”

But Axel admits the victim would be in trouble if a thief caught them handing over a “dummy” phone.

“Obviously there are problems, because if the criminals search it or find out … there is going to be a problem.”

Because of that, some try a different strategy, spending a little more to buy a cheap but real second phone.

Gloria, who works at her own stall at another market across the street in a converted art-deco movie house, said the dummy trade started about 14 years ago, but for different reasons: Phone shops would buy dummies for their exhibition cases to protect against another type of crime, the so-called “sledgehammer crews” who can clear out a jewelry or electronics store in seconds by breaking windows.

“Generally, the dummy is for a showcase, for people who sell real cellphones,” Gloria explained. “Dummies have been sold here for about 14 years, for use in showcases, but nowadays people are buying them to protect their own cellphones.”

Gloria sells an iPhone dummy for 300 pesos ($15), that would save a victim the 18,000 pesos ($900) a real iPhone would cost here.

“In most cases, people want to avoid getting their cellphone stolen, but also their data,” says Gloria, who also asked her last name not be used.

In this May 15, 2019 photo, a woman in a public transport van looks toward police who are part of a program in which officers ride buses in pairs to protect passengers and drivers from armed robbery in the Iztapalapa borough of Mexico City. There were an average of 70 reported violent muggings every day in Mexico City in the first four months of 2019, and between 2017 and 2018, such assaults rose by about 22%. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

The paranoia about assaults and muggings has been amplified by the fact that so many of the robberies are now videotaped by surveillance cameras on public buses. The tapes are often shown on news programs, instilling terror in people.

The government of the eastern borough of Ixtapalpa — one of the city’s biggest and poorest precincts — launched a program this week to have police ride the buses to prevent robberies. But even as the program started up with fanfare and media photo ops, some residents were skeptical.

Oscar Armenda, a transportation worker who was riding a bus in Iztapalapa around midday as police started climbing aboard, said, “This is good in a way, but in a way it’s not.”

“They should do this at the time of day when it’s needed, at night, not now,” Armenda said.

Today’s Top Stories

AP

DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 25: A giant flag of IR Iran on the pitch prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2...
ALI ABDUL-HASSAN and ABBY SEWELL Associated Press

US-Iran match reflects a regional rivalry for many Arab fans

The U.S. team’s must-win World Cup match against Iran will be closely watched across the Middle East, where the two nations have been engaged in a cold war for over four decades and where many blame one or both for the region’s woes.
2 days ago
Irene Cara in 'Fame' (Photo courtesy of Mgm/Kobal, Shutterstock)...
MARK KENNEDY, AP Entertainment Writer

‘Fame’ and ‘Flashdance’ singer-actor Irene Cara dies at 63

singer-actress Irene Cara, who starred and sang the title cut from the 1980 hit movie “Fame” and then belted out the era-defining hit “Flashdance ... What a Feeling” from 1983's “Flashdance,” has died. She was 63.
4 days ago
The U.S. Coast Guard ship Bernard C. Webber, leaves the coast guard base, Monday, July 19, 2021, in...
Associated Press

‘Miracle’: Missing cruise ship passenger found OK in water

The U.S. Coast Guard says a passenger who went overboard from a cruise ship in the Gulf of Mexico was rescued on Thanksgiving after likely being in the water for hours.
5 days ago
FILE - A Montana man was sentenced to three years in prison for his role in the Capitol riot. (AP P...
The Associated Press

Montana man gets 3 years in prison for role in Capitol riot

A Montana man will spend three years in federal prison for his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S Capitol.
6 days ago
Debbie, left, and Chet Barnett place flowers at a memorial outside of the Chesapeake, Va., Walmart ...
The Associated Press

Walmart shooter left ‘death note,’ bought gun day of killing

According to authorities in Virginia, the Walmart shooter bought his gun just hours prior to killing six employees.
6 days ago
Dry lakebed...
Kira Hoffelmeyer

Lawsuit looms over tiny fish in drought-stricken West

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Conservationists have notified U.S. wildlife officials that they will sue over delayed decisions related to protections for two rare fish species that are threatened by groundwater pumping in the drought-stricken West. The Center for Biological Diversity sent a formal notice of intent to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service last week […]
8 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...
Sorenson

The best tools for Deaf and hard-of-hearing workplace success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...
Macey's

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
christmas decorations candles in glass jars with fir on a old wooden table...
Western Nut Company

12 Mason Jar Gift Ideas for the 12 Days of Christmas [with recipes!]

There are so many clever mason jar gift ideas to give something thoughtful to your neighbors or friends. Read our 12 ideas to make your own!
wide shot of Bear Lake with a person on a stand up paddle board...

Pack your bags! Extended stays at Bear Lake await you

Work from here! Read our tips to prepare for your extended stay, whether at Bear Lake or somewhere else nearby.
young boy with hearing aid...
Sorenson

Accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing

These different types of accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing can help them succeed in school.
Young woman receiving laser treatment...
Form Derm Spa

How facial plastic surgery and skincare are joining forces

Facial plastic surgery is not only about looking good but about feeling good too. The medical team at Form Spa are trained to help you reach your aesthetic outcomes through surgery and through skincare and dermatology, too.
Mexicans buy fake cellphones to hand over in muggings