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Armed robberies have become so common in Mexico City that people have started buying fake smartphones to hand over to trigger-happy criminals who would rather shoot them than leave empty-handed.
Walking on the street or getting on public transportation in Mexico City have become increasingly risky affairs. According to recently released data, there were an average of 70 violent reported muggings in the Mexican capital in the first four months of 2019. Around two thirds of these crimes targeted pedestrians, while the rest were evenly committed against public transportation passengers and motorists stuck in traffic jams or waiting at traffic lights. The incidence of such crimes has been steadily increasing in the city, but it has gotten so bad that people are now buying fake smartphones to hand over to muggers instead of their real ones.
Smartphone “dummies” reportedly cost between 300 and 500 Mexican pesos – $15 and $25 – and are seemingly perfect replicas of the originals. They feature the same design and branding of popular smartphone models like Iphone and Samsung Galaxy, as well as a display that mimics a startup screen. On the inside, they have a large piece of metal meant to give them the weight of a real smartphone.
“It’s useful for robberies, the large number of muggings happening in Mexico City,” Axel, a smartphone dummy seller told The Associated Press. “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.”
Axel, who asked that his full name not be revealed for fear of being accused of selling fake goods, said that all of his clients know that they are buying useless replicas. That’s the whole point, really. They’re buying cheap dead-ringers to hopefully fool muggers into letting them walk away with both their lives and actual smartphones.
However, handing over a fake handheld at gunpoint does have its risks. If the muggers realize they are being played for suckers, there’s a high chance they’ll beat or even shoot their victim. That’s why some Mexicans choose to buy a cheaper but real smartphone to hand over in case of emergency.
Smartphone dummies have been around for over a decade, but until a couple of years ago they were only used in the exhibition cases of smartphone shops. Nowadays, with muggings so frequent in the Mexican capital, people are buying them to cut their losses, but also protect their valuable data.
Robberies have long been a big problem in Mexico, but advent of the smartphone made it even worse. Not only are they very expensive to replace – especially newer flagship models – but they also contain valuable data, like credit card and bank account details. So a lot of people are willing to spend a few bucks on dummies to hopefully prevent that data from falling into the wrong hands.