Mobile Phones Stolen in Barcelona Are Bound for the Souks of Marrakesh

The following article from Catalonia offers a fascinating peek into the trade in stolen hand-held devices, most of which end up being sold in the phone shops of North Africa. I had always wondered how thieves could circumvent the unique identifiers found in each phone, and it turns out there is a new layer of Chinese middlemen who know how to disassemble the devices and change their IDs. Clever fellows, those Chinamen!

Note: As usual, when the article refers to “Romanian” criminal gangs, it means gypsies or Roma, but the tenets of political correctness forbid identifying the perpetrators in such a fashion.

Many thanks to Pampasnasturtium for translating this article from the Catalonian daily La Vanguardia:

The profitable black market encourages the theft of mobile phones

Every day, in the city of Barcelona alone, more than 330 thefts of mobiles are recorded

by Mayka Navarro, Barcelona
February 4, 2019

[Photo caption (not shown): Coveted items: the high price of smartphones has turned them into a preferred booty of thieves.]

In the city of Barcelona an average of 450 thefts are recorded (by the police) daily. [Translator’s note: ‘robos al descuido’, being robbed due to not minding your property.] More than half of those thefts take place in the streets of Ciutat Vella. And in 75% of the cases, a telephone is the object sought after by the thief.

Long ago criminals realized that it was a lot more profitable to pilfer a mobile than a wallet. And even a lot easier. Tourists use their mobiles every day more as a camera, and the dependence that a high percentage of the population suffers from causes those items, with a value in many cases around a thousand euros, to be carried around in the hand with nonchalance and hardly any precautions. A coveted object always in sight to be checked at any time, or snatched in a few seconds.

After the crime, mobile phones begin a dizzying journey that can take them, in a few hours, to be sold in any phone shop of a Moroccan city. The northern African country is the main destination of an immensely high percentage of the devices stolen in Barcelona. It’s curious, because important brands like Apple have no official stores in the neighboring country, but there are dozens of shops in Casablanca or Marrakesh where they’re sold as if they were new. Many users have suffered a theft and afterwards they complain that, when activating the geo-location system of the device, they verify that it is already located on Moroccan territory.

Ciutat Vella is the main setting for this type of crime, and the tourists the victims

Phones are stolen because there’s a big black market ready to buy them, without asking where they come from. The illegal (stolen phones) reception business results in such minimal penalties that it is impossible to dedicate police resources to investigate a group of criminals who are set free the next day.

The Ciutat Vella chiefs of police acknowledge that the streets of the area are, furthermore, the place where all the phones stolen in the rest of the city are gathered. All the people in charge of reception, who take care of giving a second life to hand-held devices, live there.

At this time the profile of the mobile thief is largely a Moroccan minor or teenager who has (legally) become an adult [translator’s note: turned 18], and has decided to survive by committing crimes outside of the (publicly-funded) guardianship system. Alone or in a group, he chooses the victims and steals tirelessly. ‘They thieve with great ease because people walk carelessly with mobile in hand. Only if the situation gets complicated, and they detect that it is a high-priced model, will the robbery end up with violence, but that’s in the least number of cases,’ explains an investigations official of Ciutat Vella.

The phone remains in the thief’s hands for a short time. The borough has different ‘free-port’ flats [‘pisos francos’] also managed by Moroccans, Algerians or Pakistanis who buy any device, paying cash, turned-on, turned-off, blocked, damaged during the theft… Anything goes. They meet at a bar, and the thief can receive, depending on the model, up to 200 or 300 euros in cash.

Most of the devices are stored in ‘free-port’ flats before they travel to Morocco

The vast majority of those mobiles are stored in the flats for a few days and afterwards travel, via land or sea, by plane in suitcases or postal packs, to Morocco. Also to Algeria, but with a first stop in Marseille. That’s the itinerary detectives have been able to replicate, during recent operations carried out in which people who acted mainly as reception points for stolen phones appeared.

Other devices end up in pieces or intact in internet cafes and mobile-phone shops managed by Pakistanis in the Raval neighborhood. They are the most careful when dealing with stolen goods and the hardest to detect commercializing pieces of illegal origin, police sources explain. Internet cafes and shops that sell secondhand phones have an obligation to send a weekly listing to the Regional Administrative Unit (‘Urpa’) of the police in Barcelona, with the IMEI numbers of the smartphones for sale.

IMEI means International Mobile Equipment Identity and it’s a unique identifier that each mobile has. No other telephone in the world has the same 15-number combination in an IMEI, and when the device is connected to a network it automatically sends that identifier. It’s a kind of unique Identity Document, with which it can be identified with no mistake throughout the entire world. Knowing that number allows the device to be blocked in case of theft.

Many devices do not remain more than an hour in the hands of the thieves

But it happens that only a minimal percentage of victims of a mobile theft keep the IMEI number safely written down somewhere. Memorizing it is impossible; it shows on the telephone’s box when it’s purchased, and if the owner of the stolen device is a tourist passing through, it’s impossible for him to supplement the police report with the number once he’s home.

Nevertheless, Barcelona’s Regional Administrative Police Unit (‘Urpa’) designed its own computer application to compare the IMEI references weekly in all the police reports in Catalonia with the listings sent to them by those internet cafes and secondhand shops. They receive some 1,500 references weekly of reported stolen goods. The immense majority of them are telephones. Every now and then a stolen item pops up.

But it is hard to detect stolen pieces in the listings that the shops hand over to the police. ‘If they work with products of a dubious origin, they won’t give us the ID number, and since they also don’t have to keep a mobile for a period of time due to our control, they get rid of them quickly,’ an Urpa official explains.

This unit carries surprise inspections in these shops and not a week passes during which they don’t find devices that had been reported stolen. Another loophole in the system is the phone repair shops, where Chinese citizens are increasingly setting up new businesses. Here there’s positively no type of control at all. Phones are disassembled, and new ones can be assembled with an IMEI created through a computer program that hides the old IMEI.

The Agricultura Street stolen phones’ receptionists

The investigation unit of Barcelona’s municipal police managed to break up a criminal organization composed of members of the same Romanian family who, besides burglarizing tourists’ cars in the city’s parking lots, were selling all the stolen goods in a flat on Agricultura Street. At that reception site in the Besòs neighborhood, detectives found goods valued at €300,000. Those arrested, three of whom were sent to prison, would sell the stolen goods from that flat, where they also lived, or would distribute them to other properties in Ciutat Vella. When the agents entered the house they only found four mobile phones, which confirms, according to detectives, that stolen smartphones are the products that fly off the shelves first.

7 thoughts on “Mobile Phones Stolen in Barcelona Are Bound for the Souks of Marrakesh

  1. Pretty good information in this article. The first thing is to store your IMEI number in a separate place.

    You can carry it physically, or perhaps store it in the cloud for access from a public computer if your phone is stolen.

    On the broader questions, the open-border Schengen Agreement encourages crime, even among Europeans, let alone migrants. It used to be that travelers had to register with the police, or with hotels, which would pass the information to the police.

    Some problems need an injection of old-fashioned xenophobia.

  2. Spain has become the harvesting field for criminals from every corner of the world who come here to commit all imaginable and unimaginable crimes: street gangs, drug dealing, pocketers, fake and real kidnapping , contract killings, prostitution rings.. you name it. Spain is going to hell in a handbag.

    • Catalonia, where I reside, is a ‘special kind’ of Spain, much to my dismay in that political/cultural regard – loosely speaking, think of what California is to the US.
      No moronic and/or suicidal ‘progressive’ piety passes unheeded here, so we’re now in a cumulatively worse situation locally, I reckon (and things will get way, way worse before they start getting any better, if at all). The culturally-enriched gang rapes/gang sex assaults thing was absolutely unheard of until last year (except for the Manada case during Sanfermines 2016, where the perps were native Spaniards and it was partially an intoxicated orgy gone wrong).
      There might be hope for some other areas of Spain, which, despite having massively voted socialism for decades now, still retain a core of traditionalism that oscillates between the moderate and the reactionary.
      Think of Andalusia having recently voted Vox into their regional parliament for the first time during the last elections, no matter how much the ‘far right’/’fascism’ smear was slung at them in advance by the mass enemedia.
      Vox’s platform has bits of Salvini (anti mass migration from the third world) and of Bolsonaro (anti sexual-deviancy proselytizing in schools, and anti misandrist feminazis monopolizing public discourse and stigmatizing anyone who deviates from their orthodoxy) – potentially positive signs of the tide subsiding and even changing.

      • “There might be hope for some other areas of Spain, which, despite having massively voted socialism for decades now, still retain a core of traditionalism that oscillates between the moderate and the reactionary.
        Think of Andalusia having recently voted Vox into their regional parliament for the first time during the last elections, no matter how much the ‘far right’/’fascism’ smear was slung at them in advance by the mass enemedia.
        Vox’s platform has bits of Salvini (anti mass migration from the third world) and of Bolsonaro (anti sexual-deviancy proselytizing in schools, and anti misandrist feminazis monopolizing public discourse and stigmatizing anyone who deviates from their orthodoxy) – potentially positive signs of the tide subsiding and even changing.”

        I am reprinting part of this comment in the hopes that soem focus can be brought to it.

        Paul Preston pointed out that the violence from the stalinist, anarchist types in the Civil War was spontaneous and was brought seriously under control after say the first six months. But he has very harsh words for the Franco side.

        A good example is the fate of Luis Companys. Fleeing along with millions with Franco winning the battle in 1939 and tarrying in France because his son was ill in Paris, he was arrested in 1940 by the Gestapo, I repeat Gestapo, transferred to prison in Barcelona, a court hearing of if I remember a half an hour, in his cell elites visited him to mock and throw into the cell bits of bread, executed.

        What the Stalinists under Carillo, the PSOE, the parties of Franco did in 1976 to 1978 was to create an “image” of democracy, I will not go into the details but the exact same Franco state remained, and aimed (part of the language of that state) to ban all discussion of the past. That I hope you will agree, maybe not, you cannot do to human beings.

        The country today is riven. Vox should not be spoken of as the same as Italy today. It is this rigid cage of Francoism that was remained and unable to escape from. Even a bird in a cage will sing a song of sorts, but the Spanish no, not allowed.

        That is one factor, a very crippling factor.

        But there are others and it is the reality in all of our country in that no country can have intake of massive immigration legal or illegal and remain its traditional self.

        The centre in Spain I maintain is this Franco experience AND not discussed, a large dark hand over the spirit, and immigration the same dark hand.

        This is very sketchy I know but I think it puts itself in opposition to the above comment which unfortunately does not go to the essence which is that historical experience from 1933 to 1976. It seems so obvious to me but perhaps I have it wrong.

  3. Spain becoming are hell hole like Germany, UK., France , Sweden, Belgium, Italy all this countries bring Muslims hordes in the large quantities, now they have huge problems, and I’m afraid is just the beginning, so sad , beautiful countries completely destroyed by traitors elite from EU. …

  4. I do not understand why the cops do not fight it.
    Ag sorry, only nice methods may be used.

    Just imagine a state where the cops are allowed to use methods that work.
    A mobile would be stolen and after the perpetrator walks three meters a small explosive / acid capsule goes off.
    Or think of the motorcycle thieves that rip off your handbag. What niceties you could hide in there…

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