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Testing cell networks across America: Phone crime is real

Gabe Scelta | May 17, 2013
On a sweltering spring day in southwest Dallas I was standing outside my car, parked on a flat and near-empty stretch of urban road. The sun was quickly drying the cars coming out of the car wash across the street and I was playing with the OpenSignal app on my tester phones. Seemingly out of nowhere an old man was standing behind me. He looked like Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption, but on a very bad day.

On a sweltering spring day in southwest Dallas I was standing outside my car, parked on a flat and near-empty stretch of urban road. The sun was quickly drying the cars coming out of the car wash across the street and I was playing with the OpenSignal app on my tester phones. Seemingly out of nowhere an old man was standing behind me. He looked like Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption, but on a very bad day.

He said "Selling some phones, eh?" I've come to expect this. As I've mentioned before, many people ask me if I'm selling phones out on the street--presumably stolen ones.

I suppose it isn't too far away of a concept when a strange looking man (my mother may disagree) pulls up in a sedan and opens a case featuring an assortment of very nice mobile devices that are neatly labeled "AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile."

The fact is, smartphone theft has become a very big issue in the U.S. Numbers are on the rise, and the level of violence around such thefts is rising, too.

A few things have crossed my mind about this phenomenon, some personal, some more wide reaching.

Do I look like a thief?
I did forget to bring beard trimmers on this trip and I haven't gotten a haircut since I left New York in late March, but I was hoping there was a "type" of person who fences stolen electronics, and that that "type" did not look like me.

I thought you needed to "know people." I'll admit this is a vague concept in my head, but I was under the impression that if one wanted to acquire an "off-market" electronic device, someone in your social circle would pull you aside, maybe in a bar or at some secret-password dice game under a highway overpass and say something like "Look, don't let this get around, but I know a guy..." Having literally flown in to town for the first time less than 24 hours ago, I most assuredly do not "know people."

Stop! I have tattoos
Should I request an armed escort for next year's mobile carrier tests? I'm pretty sure that's not in the budget. I do sometimes get the feeling that I was chosen for this job partially for my abilities, and partially for looking like someone who might not get mugged. I assure you that is an incorrect assumption based solely on general size and tattoo prevalence.

Just as not all "trunk based electronics resellers" look like thugs, I've noticed that the people who are considering their options in buying phones are not a specific type. I've been asked about selling phones in nearly every city I've been in and I can tell you there is no type. They have truly been everywhere on the age, color and creed spectrum. I will say that I have not been asked by any little old ladies. In fact, women are underrepresented in the are-you-selling-phones phenomenon, but that could just be a statistical anomaly that means they have other venues available to them.

 

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