Trying to get a smartphone stolen gave me renewed faith in South Africa

MyBroadband recently had a smartphone stolen as part of a play to see where stolen devices end up in South Africa.

While our plan eventually went off without a hitch, it took multiple failed attempts before we achieved success.

It turns out, getting your phone stolen is harder than it sounds.

Our task was simple – take a large-touchscreen Android phone and leave it lying around in places with lots of people.

First up were multiple shopping malls in Gauteng, with the device left in their bathrooms, on their benches in high-traffic areas, and on the rims of dustbins.

The smartphone was either left alone, picked up and handed to security, or concerned citizens would warn us to keep an eye on the device.

We also left the phone on the boot of a car at parking lots outside petrol stations and large retail stores – this time a car guard told us we had forgotten our device.

Store staff

Following the failures, it was time to step it up – and we chose to visit a factory clothing outlet the weekend after payday to take advantage of the large crowds.

However, we again underestimated the goodness of South Africans.

At first, we walked around with a half-open pouch bag with the phone inside.

We quickly identified threats – people who were clearly there to snatch a phone or purse when given the chance.

The shop’s staff were also alert to this and identified us easy targets.

When the predators started circling, the staff noticed them and stepped in to prevent any theft – making sure they were in the same vicinity as us.

Despite the increased heat, one bold suspect made her move. She sat next to us on a bench as we were “trying on shoes” and tried to take the phone that had been left in plain view.

At the same time, a staff member rounded a corner and the would-be thief nonchalantly put the phone back.

After this, another staff member asked us to sit where he could keep an eye on us – and our belongings.

Like a pair of superheroes, their watchfulness ultimately scared off the circling perps.

Dodging the do-gooders

Not wishing to be a distraction for the well-meaning staff, we exited the shop and returned a while later when it was busier.

Blending in with the throngs was much easier, and we identified at least three groups waiting for an unsuspecting shopper to give them an opportunity to strike.

They ranged from a Bonny and Clyde pair, to a mixed group of three men and two women who were scoping out different parts of the shop.

In the press of people, we put the phone down on a shelf and feigned interest in an item. When we turned back a few seconds later, the device was gone.

Finally, our smartphone was stolen.

Our fellow South Africans didn’t make it easy, but after dodging storefront superheroes and nullifying the powers of well-meaning citizens, we succeeded.

This is an opinion piece.

Now read: Networks looking at system to check if you’re buying a stolen phone in South Africa

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Trying to get a smartphone stolen gave me renewed faith in South Africa