Don’t pay your bill? We block your mobile

Can you imagine that your mobile will be blocked if you don't pay your debts?  Surely your surprised face will be like that of the girl in the picture.  Photo: Getty.

Can you imagine that your mobile will lock if you do not pay your debts? Surely your surprised face would be like that of the girl in the image. Photo: Getty.

Imagine that one fine day, when you are at work or on the way to college, you try to make a call with your mobile and it is completely blocked. We are not referring to the classic ‘jam’ of the operating system or a system failure: the terminal is like a paperweight and, in case there were any doubts, a message appears on the screen. The text could not be more explicit: either you pay the debt or the mobile will be useless.

Well, this situation is being experienced right now in India and for a reason that will surprise you: the non-payment of the debt for the purchase of the mobile.

Mobile on credit to promote sales

In this Asian country, the price of terminals is too great an entry barrier for the family economy in many cases, and for this reason, manufacturers began to finance the sale of mobile phones. The approach is simple: instead of paying $ 150 at once for the device, the brand itself proposes to purchase it in comfortable installments of $ 10 or $ 15. Too tempting for many who do not hesitate to buy a mobile with these conditions. Is this practice popular? A lot. In India it is estimated between 40 and 60% of sales are financed in this way.

The system works and is undoubtedly successful, however, it is facing a difficult problem to tackle: defaults. With the mobile in his pocket and after a few months, it is not surprising that the buyer becomes infatuated with another model and loses the illusion for his. However, the old terminal continues to drag a debt and manufacturers have found a definitive way to tackle defaults: the automatic blocking of the mobile.

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Cell phone store in Mumbai, India, where it is becoming more and more common to buy cell phones in installments.  (Photo: Jeffrey Greenberg / Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Cell phone store in Mumbai, India, where it is increasingly common to buy cell phones in installments. (Photo: Jeffrey Greenberg / Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Un ’ransomware’ legal

In this way, the owner of the mobile who has a payment commitment with the manufacturer and does not breach it, will find that one good morning it will not turn on and will display a message on the screen. The technique is very similar to that used in cyberattacks using ransomware: either you pay, or I block everything. In the Indian case, the messages that appear on the screen of blocked mobiles read something like this: “Please pay the debt on the website to unlock the device.”

Apparently, the brands in this country that finance the sale of their mobiles include a hidden application in the system – going back to coincidences, something that we could qualify as malware– which is activated in the event of non-payment. The manufacturer remotely locks the device until it has proof that the debt has been paid. However, this technique has a drawback that is beginning to emerge: what happens when the mobile is sold to a second person?

This problem is repeating itself in India as unscrupulous owners sell mobile phones that carry an unpaid debt on buying and selling websites. The buyer sticks to what he sees to make the purchase: a mobile in very good condition at a very attractive price, ignoring that the equipment comes with a poisoned gift. Weeks pass and one morning, this brand new terminal does not start and displays the aforementioned message on the screen. Let’s see who can find the seller at that moment … The only solution is to pay a debt that is not ours.

In any case, it is a somewhat controversial technique. Will telephone companies also use it to force you to pay their utility bills? Will it be applied at some point in other markets such as the United States, Mexico or Europe? Nothing can be ruled out, but I doubt it was legal.

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