Cellular network battery theft is rapidly increasing in South Africa, and many people are unknowingly putting themselves at risk by purchasing stolen batteries.
Cellphone tower theft and vandalism in nothing new, but a recent escalation in this crime has seen drastic measures taken by operators.
In certain cases, mobile operators had to shut down towers which were regularly hit – leaving residents in those areas without connectivity.
In fact, battery theft has become so widespread that mobile operators implemented extra on-site security to protect the batteries from thieves.
“Network operators across the country have been battling sophisticated syndicates that have been stealing batteries daily,” said MTN SA spokesperson Jacqui O’Sullivan.
Load-shedding is making the situation worse, where entire neighbourhoods cloaked in darkness at predictable times offer criminals greater cover.
MTN base station security manager Blake Cross said as many as 125 incidents of battery theft a week have been recorded on their network alone.
Vodacom echoed these concerns. The company said an average 553 incidents per month are recorded, with sites affected by theft or damage.
Vodacom said it has seen a big increase in the number of batteries being stolen from its base stations every year.
Severe impact on networks
Vandalism and theft have a severe impact on mobile networks, which includes increased costs and network downtime.
It also poses a safety and security risk, as alarm systems use network signals to send a distress signal to control rooms for security response teams.
If the mobile network is down a signal will not be sent and your security company won’t respond, leaving households and businesses vulnerable.
The same applies for vehicle tracking devices in an event of theft or hijacking, and personal safety and GPS location apps.
Fighting battery theft
Ernest Paul, general manager for MTN’s network operations, urged South Africans to join the fight against battery theft.
“Battery theft is a crime that compromises the safety and welfare of every South African, but it is not a crime that we can fight alone,” he said.
“We therefore appeal to all South Africans to report any theft, vandalism, or suspicious activity that you see, hear of, or come across.”
He asked South Africans to report suspected battery theft cases to the Bidvest Protea Coin Hotline (086 101 1721), the MTN Fraud Line (083 123 7867), or email [email protected]
Do not buy stolen batteries
Leonie Verster, divisional executive at Bidvest Protea Coin, said people do not realise how big the problem of battery theft is in South Africa.
While stolen cellular network batteries were previously destined for countries like Zimbabwe and Malawi, a local market has developed with the advent of load-shedding.
The stolen batteries are often sold to unsuspecting people who want to protect themselves against load-shedding or make use of solar power.
Unscrupulous companies also purchase the stolen batteries from criminals and then install them as part of load-shedding solutions.
Verster warns that people who have these stolen batteries in their homes can get in trouble, regardless of whether the batteries are new or second-hand.
“You are in possession of stolen commodities and subsequently you are going to be dealt with accordingly,” she said.
Photos of stolen batteries to avoid
MTN provided MyBroadband with samples of batteries which are exclusive to mobile operators and never sold to the public.
This means that if you are offered these batteries to purchase, you should decline them and alert the authorities immediately.