How Stolen Smartphones End Up In The Hands Of Colombian Cartels

by:CAI YI JIE     2019-08-18
This article is part of the Huffington Post\'s series of exploring the global underground transactions of stolen smartphones.
The first few stories of the series can be found here.
BOGOTA, Colombia--
In the capital of a country notorious for drug trafficking, this is a familiar scene.
According to an informant, police in Colombia have blocked a Chevrolet minivan from leaving El Dorado airport in Bogota.
They found what they were looking for after the car: dozens of boxes containing valuable contraband.
But the attack happened early yesterday morning.
26. 2012 no cocaine or other illicit drugs were involved.
The number of boxes for Samsung, LG and BlackBerry smartphones exceeds 400, with instructions and power chargers.
When the police turned on the phone, the names and logos of the two US wireless companies AT&T and Verizon were displayed on the screen.
While searching for their serial numbers in the US police database does not link any equipment to reported robberies, the investigator of the Colombian National Police, Luis Gutt, he said the phone had been stolen in the United States from a hacking conversation between Colombian traffickers, showing it was obtained from a major distributor of stolen electronics in Miami and then flew to Bogota.
Guate told Huffington Post: \"Our informants told us that they were buying stolen phones from there, repairing them, and putting them in boxes with manuals, make them look like he added that in order to avoid hooking up with crime reports, traffickers often change the serial number.
\"Then they will import them to Colombia.
\"The South American cartel is applying the skills honed by the distribution of cocaine for decades to a new pursuit, offering huge profits at a fraction of the risk: they are turning to stolen smartphones.
A Huffington Post investigation using interviews with Colombian law enforcement officials and local police informants as well as a record of bugging conversations between human traffickers reveals that Colombia is an increasingly profitable trade.
\"Drug trafficking is more dangerous because all countries are fighting drugs,\" Colombian attorney general Jeanet Pelaez told HuffPost . \".
\"But the phone is stolen, not every country is solving the problem.
No control.
The risk is small.
The potential reward is huge.
According to the San Francisco lookout, the global stolen smartphone market is estimated to be worth $30 billion a year.
Mobile security company.
While cocaine trade has traditionally moved from the south to the north,
From the origin of Latin America to buyers in North America, smartphone transactions are usually reversed.
Many goods are collected on the streets of American cities. -
Now, sometimes it\'s popular.
Deadly street crimes against iphone and other devices-
It was then shipped to Bogota and other cities in South America.
An active Colombian police informant confirmed the influx of human traffickers into the stolen smartphone deal, and he was interviewed by The Huffington Post without being named on the grounds that his life was threatened.
He said the cartel likes high.
Devices such as the IPhone and Samsung Galaxy.
Many phones that arrived in bulk and were used for retail distribution were stolen in the United States, the informant said.
He said: \"When you open the phone it says AT&T or T-Mobile.
According to the line, the traffickers took stolen mobile phones from the United States to an electronic market in a shopping center in downtown Bogota, where the equipment was refurbished and then smuggled out of the country, mainly on the ground.
Colombia has become the center of a global distribution network, and stolen smartphones are arriving by air and sea from distant places like Spain and Singapore.
Then, a state-of-the-art stealth express industry shipped the equipment from Brazil to Argentina.
On the road, the phone is disguised in milk and fruit containers, loaded onto trucks and buses, transported by secret compartments sewn into suitcases and jacket liners, according to law enforcement and a police informant, the smugglers are hidden in backpacks in the shallow water area of the Venezuelan border.
Some traffickers smuggle drugs and telephones.
Last year, Colombian police tried to arrest William elizel Lozano Saras, a businessman who owns a mobile phone store in Colombia, who allegedly shipped stolen phones to Ecuador, Peru, Argentina and
But it\'s too late: Brazilian police have arrested him on drug trafficking charges, according to Colombian prosecutor Pelaez.
The stolen mobile phone deal has become so profitable that it has triggered a spike in deadly street crime in the United States.
According to police data, in the past two years, robbers have killed at least 20 people on mobile phones in Colombia.
In an editorial last year, the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo declared that holding a mobile phone in public has become a \"death trap \".
\"Smartphones have become something worth killing, reflecting a huge difference in retail prices across the globe.
Same iPhone, $200 for US customers, two
In Hong Kong or Brazil, the price of an annual service contract could be as high as $2,000, as the huge import tax pushed up the price of Apple products.
In the United States, law enforcement officials demand smartphone makers-
Including Apple and Samsung-add a so-
Known as the \"kill switch\", once the phone is stolen, it can disable the phone and weaken the motivation to catch them.
Apple and Samsung released new security features this summer, saying consumers will not be able to use their devices once stolen.
But San Francisco District Attorney George Gashole last month accused wireless operators of blocking Samsung\'s-
Theft function to protect the profits they get from selling phone insurance.
In addition, Apple\'s new-
The theft feature \"activate the lock\" requires iPhone users to open it, which some officials say may prevent widespread adoption.
In a statement last month, New York\'s attorney general Eric schnederman said, \"the seriousness of the problem requires a stronger response from manufacturers and operators \".
Apple did not respond to requests for comment.
Samsung said in a statement that it \"takes smartphone theft very seriously and we are continuing to strengthen our solutions.
CTIA, an industry organization representing wireless operators, said telephone companies have \"worked hard to help law enforcement solve stolen phone problems\" over the past year \".
\"In Bogota, Colonel.
The head of the Colombian National Police\'s Cyber Crime Unit, Fred Bautista Garcia, accused the electronics giant of being indifferent to the deadly violence that plagued the country.
In an interview, Garcia praised a new South Korean legislation that required handset makers to embed a kill switch on each new device.
He questioned why smartphone companies have not done so around the world.
\"I don\'t think they understand the seriousness of the problem,\" Garcia said . \".
Let papaya \'Emilia Ospina understand the seriousness of the problem.
One day in June 2012, she received a text message from a 25-year-old girl. year-
Juan Guillermo Gomez, the eldest son, came from his BlackBerry: \"Mom, do you know I love you?
\"These words will be the last words she heard from her son.
A few days later, when Gomez walked home from a local bar, four men stopped him and asked for his BlackBerry, according to police.
One of the men stabbed Gomez in the chest with a knife and killed him on the sidewalk.
The men took his smartphone and fled late into the night, police said.
\"There is no language to describe the pain,\" his mother said . \" She shook her head and grabbed her chest with both hands.
\"Just like your heart is torn.
\"According to data reported by Colombian police and consumers, Colombian and American reported the same number of stolen mobile phones last year ---1. 6 million --
Although the population of the United States is seven times the population of the United States.
In Bogota, a bustling metropolis of about 7 million people at the foot of the Andes, robberies have become so frequent that the mayor has warned residents not to show their mobile phones on the streets.
Colombian people have created a way to express their mobile phones in public ---
\"Give papaya\" generally means \"attractive fate \".
According to local police, most of the stolen telephones in Bogota are drug addicts from poor communities, who sell stolen equipment to traffickers for $25 to $100 depending on the model and situation.
Most of the thieves are men, but women are surprising.
Columbia newspaper El Tiempo last year published photos of 10 women arrested for stealing mobile phones in Bogota, titled: \"10 Queens of stolen mobile phones in the capital.
\"Thefts have become increasingly brazen, happening day and night in almost every block of the city.
Jose Mendes, 33, lives in Bogota and works for Tigo, one of the Colombian wireless providers.
His phone was stolen twice.
Once he walked down the street and was on the phone when a motorcyclist grabbed it from his hand and walked quickly.
A few months later, when Mendes was eating at a restaurant in Bogota, a thief on the table behind him stole his cell phone from his jacket, which was in a chair.
Now, when he needs to check his phone in the street, he will hide in a nearby store.
\"If you have a phone call here, it\'s a risk,\" Mendes said in an interview . \".
\"You don\'t feel safe anywhere except in your house.
For lawyer Gomez, his fatal encounter with phone thieves was not his first.
A year ago, the robbers beat him and ran away with their mobile phones.
After that, his mother warned him not to carry his cell phone on the street.
\"He is my life,\" his mother said . \"
\"When he died, the color of my life changed.
Everything became black and white.
Life and real happiness are no longer here.
Gomez grew up in the Columbia City of bukalanga. Bukalanga is about 200 miles north of Bogota.
His parents affectionately called him \"Juangui\" and they said he was a curious child who read greedily, took apart the radio to find out how they worked and taught himself
His mother said that as he grew older, he chose the legal profession to \"change all corruption in the government \".
The Colombian newspaper says he is widely regarded as an \"outstanding\" lawyer with a bright future.
His family said he applied for a graduate course at Harvard shortly before his death, a long-term dream.
Now, more than a year after Gomez went to the world, 20-year-old Nicholas Gomez is still wearing his brother\'s favorite Tissot watch, even though the band is too tight.
Nicholas said: \"He was wearing this dress the night he was killed . \" He sat in his apartment in Bogota, looking down at his wrist.
\"The thief did not take it.
I don\'t know why.
Worth more than a mobile phone.
His murder has caused a stir across the country.
Colombian businessmen, politicians, professors and students filled the Holy Heart of the Church of Jesus in bucaranga for his funeral.
Colombian police have launched an \"emergency plan\" in areas with a large number of telephone robberies in the country \".
Colombian journalists have launched a social media campaign to raise awareness of violence related to phone theft.
Two men were eventually jailed for the murder of Gomez. -
One is 44 years, the other is 39 years. A 17-year-
The old associates were charged with minors and sentenced to five years in prison.
Police continue to search for the fourth suspect.
Gomez\'s mother said she was no longer angry at the murderer who killed her son.
Instead, she says, she feels \"sorry for them\" because they are more valuable than human life on the phone.
\"Those children died more than my son,\" she said.
Police in Colombia blame rising street crime on strong consumer demand for black-market smartphones, especially the iPhone.
Like Americans, columnians are so obsessed with iPhones that they line up outside retail stores hours before the new model is released.
But there is only one in one
Third, many Colombian people can only afford stolen models.
\"If people don\'t buy stolen cell phones, robbery won\'t exist,\" said Carlos felagan Cabrera, an investigator for cyber crime at the Colombian National Police . \".
To stop people from buying stolen phones, the Colombian government last year produced a series of shocking, sometimes creepy TV commercials.
One of them, smiling people talk with their mobile phones while buying flowers, reading books and shopping.
A moment later, the blood began to bleed from the device, and a message from Spanish scrawls appeared on the screen indicating that the person who bought the stolen phone may be indirectly responsible for the violence: \"Buying a stolen phone is like carrying a dead man. Don’t do it.
In another work, when a mourner presents flowers in front of a tombstone, the camera passes through the cemetery.
A voice said: \"The trafficking of stolen mobile phones is burying the dreams of many Colombian people.
Do not buy or sell stolen mobile phones.
It\'s your responsibility, too.
Pablo Marquez, head of the agency that oversees Columbia Wireless, said the public awareness campaign was \"very effective \".
\"It makes people realize that if you buy a stolen phone, you may have bought it from the person who was killed,\" he said in an interview . \".
But the most recent afternoon, at a shopping mall in downtown Bogota called Las Avenidas,-
Police say most of the stolen cell phones in Colombia are on sale. -
A large number of shoppers have demonstrated ongoing demand for discounted, potentially violent, used phones.
In a chaotic market.
Some hair Hairspray salesmen showed the latest iPhone, Samsung and BlackBerry models under a row of glass counters, and reggaeton took a look at thum from the speakers on the ceiling.
The business spread out onto the sidewalk outside, and more salesmen put phones on blue and red blankets, just a few steps away from speeding motorcycles and buses that emit black exhaust to smokechoked sky.
\"This is Colombia\'s largest market for stolen mobile phones,\" said Fernando orrosio, an undercover official with the Colombian National Police.
According to Orosco estimates, 80% of the phones displayed here were stolen, some in Colombia and some abroad.
To avoid a police raid, he said, the sales staff put legal phones under the glass counter and hid the stolen phones in the back room.
At a counter, a lady asked a salesman for an iPhone.
He nodded and disappeared.
After a while he came back with a white iPhone 5 and looked almost new, but there were some small scratches.
He showed her how to use the iPhone\'s camera and said it would cost 850,000 Colombian pesos, about $400.
\"How do I know the phone was not stolen? ” she asked.
He assured her, \"This is not stolen . \"
\"I will give you a receipt and my store name and you will come back and tell them who I am if you have any questions about the police.
The salesman reduced the price by about $50 and threw three. month warranty.
But the woman said she left without money.
According to police, hackers and MULESUntil police destroyed an operation two years ago. a high-end hotel three miles from a shopping mall acted as a way to extract stolen smartphones into marketable goods.
Colombian law enforcement officials say every few months a notorious computer hacker, Pedro Eduardo chasko, will fly from Argentina\'s home to Bogota to stay at Ibis and rarely leave the room.
Police say the thief will put a suitcase full of stolen smartphones in the room of Chasco.
Use a computer with a complex phone-
Hacking software, he held a marathon session to unlock the devices so that they can be used on other networks, processing up to 500 phones per visit, and they charge 20 to 50 each, according to police.
Law enforcement said that Chasco carried out eight such work between 2008 and 2011.
\"He\'s a hacker,\" said Colombian police officer Cabrera . \"
\"He is very good at operating mobile phones.
He is a key part of the structure that allows them to send equipment abroad.
Chasco, who has Argentine and Spanish nationality, is known in the police as \"El Liberator\" and also as the person who liberated the smartphone.
The traffickers knew he was a \"Spaniard \".
In a bugging call captured by Colombian police, a human dealer named Luis Eduardo Bernal Castillo was called \"Lujo,\" he told a colleague, he needs to unlock a batch of iPhones before smuggling them to Peru.
\"Only one person knows how to do this,\" Castillo said on the phone, according to court documents . \".
\"That\'s the Spaniard.
On 2011, police arrested Castillo, accusing him of leading a criminal gang and selling 14,000 stolen mobile phones in South America within three months.
On 2011, Colombian police believed they had seized chassko.
However, prosecutor Pelaez said that when the officer went to his hotel room, an employee at the hotel reception gave him information.
When the police arrived, a member of chasko was standing in his room, but they did not find any evidence. -
No computers, no phones. -
Forced to let him go.
A spokeswoman for the Ibis hotel did not respond to requests for comment.
The global police organization, Interpol, has issued an arrest warrant for Chasco, but the police have lost contact with him.
His lawyer could not be reached for comment.
\"We think he might be somewhere in Argentina,\" Peletz said . \".
Once out of the limitations of previous networks, stolen cell phones will travel in the hands of experienced smugglers or \"mules\" who will take them to cities in South America.
There, the phone was re-sold in the shopping mall.
Police say smugglers usually pack the equipment in cartons marked with \"mobile phone accessories.
To reduce the volume, they take apart some and ship only the motherboard-
Thin green computer chip inside-
And reassemble them at the destination.
But without help, human traffickers cannot smuggle stolen mobile phones.
According to Pelaez, they secure their goods across borders by bribing networks including bus drivers and customs agents.
On the way to Argentina, police found several Peruvian bus drivers had their mobile phones stolen and they were arrested.
On 2011, police arrested a Colombian customs officer, accusing him of helping smugglers bypass airport security checks at El Dorado airport in Bogota while carrying stolen equipment in his luggage.
The official has pleaded guilty and is awaiting trial.
\"Someone will tell him what the person with his cell phone is wearing and he will pretend to search him,\" Pelaez said . \".
\"Then he let him go.
\"In the face of the surge in stolen phone smuggling, Colombian police have been stepping up their crackdown.
Two years ago, police arrested 17 people for smuggling stolen mobile phones between Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Argentina, and seized 1,150 stolen mobile phones, 2,800 mobile phone motherboards and 5 laptops, two cars, according to Colombian police, cost about $26,000.
Last summer, they arrested 16 more people and seized 850 stolen mobile phones, 125 mobile phone motherboards and 60 SIM cards flying to Peru, Venezuela and Argentina.
At a press conference, police released a recent explosion showing dozens of smartphones, a stack of Colombian pesos and six revolvers belonging to traffickers on a table.
The four people arrested stood behind the table, facing the flashing camera, and their jackets pulled down from their heads.
Police infiltrated the telephone cartel in Colombia through typical criminal activities.
Combat technology.
Guate, a police investigator with a wide shoulder and close body
The short-cut silver hair, listening to the hacking phone between hundreds of hours of human traffickers, began to decipher their code language.
For example, they never say the word \"phone\", he said.
Instead, they refer to the old model as \"perritos \"(“doggies”)
And the updated smartphone \"buenitas \"(“beauties”).
He said that when they recite the serial number, they use letters instead of numbers.
Prosecutors Pelaez said many phone dealers are trying to avoid attention by driving a Mazda sedan instead of a gorgeous sports car and laundering money through the shopping malls they have in Bogota.
Guate said they avoided police hacking by dropping personal phones every four days and conducting sensitive business on Skype because online services could not be monitored by the police.
The police also used another one.
Old fashioned way to break through the cartel-
Cultivating informants
A recent morning, a police informant met with the Huffington Post, describing how telephone traffickers in Colombia organized and operated.
The informant asked to hide his name and physical features to cover up his identity.
He then sat at a table and glanced at the empty food court, explaining why he needed to remain anonymous.
He said softly, \"they will kill me if they find out I am an informant.
\"The informant said he started selling stolen mobile phones at age 25, buying them from street thieves and selling them behind the glass counter at the Bogota mall.
Earlier this year, he was arrested with a box of stolen mobile phones.
He agreed to become an informant to avoid imprisonment.
\"They told me they would drop the charges if I worked together,\" he said . \".
\"So I reached an agreement with the police.
He lives a double life.
As part of the cartel, he shipped stolen phones between the person who bought the phone from the thief and the person who smuggled it.
\"I am the middleman,\" he said . \"
As an informant, he meets with an undercover officer every month and reveals the location of the drug dealer\'s merchandise and the latest phone number so that the police can eavesdrop on their conversation.
He said he earned $200 a week as a human trafficker.
As an informant, the police paid him up to $2,000 in information, resulting in the arrest.
Police say his work has so far arrested more than a dozen traffickers.
Sometimes he gets free food.
As he spoke, a plainclothes policeman brought him a steaming empadas from the mall food court.
The informant smiled.
\"They fed me very well,\" he said . \"
\"They made me fat.
However, the pressure of life as an informant has caused losses.
He is concerned about providing the police with information that might put his associates in prison.
\"I told them that they should not arrest the middleman because they are my friends,\" he said . \".
\"They should only arrest smugglers.
He was also worried that his cover would be overturned.
When he stood up and left, he looked again from his shoulder, nervously scanning the dim --lit food court.
\"I am always vigilant,\" he said . \"
\"I always want to see if someone is following me.
Julieta Aponte Tovar provides reports and translations for this story.
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