With Covid-19 disrupting the way we live, work and interact, it’s safe to say it’s been a pretty strange year indeed. Even so, the arrival of the holiday season, sunshine and summer brings with it a refreshed hope and a welcome of family time.
Although cautions like social distancing and mask-wearing are still a reality, we are happy that hospitality industries and international borders have opened again. As our spirits lift for the festive season, on the security and personal safety side, there are a few things we need to keep in mind. Festive crime has been on the rise over the last few years. Crime events like mall robberies, bag snatching, house break-ins and hi-jackings are just some of the numbers that have seen a steady rise around the Christmas period.
Craig Austen, Secure Rite CEO added, “Awareness is absolutely key. We aren’t saying you should not enjoy a carefree holiday, but just be aware that crime can happen in an instant if we are oblivious to the risks. It’s hard not to get caught up in the moment of your holiday relaxation, but don’t forget to keep your bags and wallet safe, lock up and secure your home and car. Lastly, remember that Christmas shopping applies to criminals too. If you flaunt valuables, you may unknowingly be inviting unwanted attention.”
We asked the Secure Rite team for pointers on how to avoid and manage some common festive crime events. We started by identifying 5 common festive crime events like the following:
- Armed Robbery/ Mall Robbery
- ATM Fraud
- House Robbery
- Bag/ phone snatching
Armed Robbery / Mall Robbery
Mall Robbery syndicates are known to operate more frequently in holiday periods due to high stock and/or cash holdings of stores. Most vulnerable are jewelry stores, designer stores and/ or mobile device establishments. These ‘quick grab, high return’ operations are carefully planned and implemented. These crimes, more often than not, will involve weapons and risk to innocent lives. While Mall Security takes extra precaution over the holiday periods, there is no guarantee that these attempts can be stopped completely.
Being in an armed robbery is a very scary experience that no one should have to go through, but if it ever does happen to you, it’s important to know what to do. Here are some ‘need to know’ points to imprint into our subconscious should we ever find ourselves in a robbery situation.
- If you are close to a store that is being robbed, stay far away and find a safe place to hide. Do not make eye contact or attempt to film the event as this could agitate and draw attention your way.
- If you are inside a store that is being robbed, remain calm and do not resist. Try to stay down and assure the robber you will cooperate and take no action that may jeopardise your safety. Don’t make any quick or unexpected movements.
- Follow the robber’s directions, but do not offer more than what they ask for.
- Don’t argue. If you have to move or reach into your pockets to give the robber what they want, tell them what you are going to do and why.
- Make subtle mental notes of the robber’s appearance should you need to describe this to the police later. You’ll need to describe the suspect when filing your report. Take note of their features including race, age, height, hair and eye colour, clothing, etc. Is there anything unusual about their appearances such as scars or tattoos? If they have a weapon, make note of what it is so you can describe it later. If they come or go in a car, try to note the make and model and license plate number if you have any visibility of this.
- Notice what the robber does so you can include it in your report. If there are two accomplices, pay attention to any conversations they have with one another. Do they use each other’s names or nicknames? Do they mention any locations? Try to remember what they touch during the robbery so that police can check those areas for fingerprints.
- After the robbery, go immediately to a safe location, then report the crime. Your personal safety is your top priority. Make sure you feel secure before you contact the police. If you’re in an isolated area, move to an area with people and ask someone to stay with you while you wait for help. If you opt to remain at the crime scene, try not to touch anything. If there were any witnesses, ask them to remain with you until the officers arrive. If they must leave, write down their name, address and telephone number.
2. ATMs Scams
Just as the festive season sees people relax and become more socially active, criminals utilise this opportunity to exploit human psychology by using malicious social engineering tactics to steal personal or confidential information. Bank clients are urged to be vigilant when withdrawing holiday cash at ATMs.
Here are some notes to avoid ATM scammers:
- Criminals continue to attempt to steal bank cards and pins by interfering with people while they are carrying out a transaction. Do not accept assistance from anyone, even if they look well-dressed or seem legitimate.
- “Interference” at ATMs also goes beyond accepting assistance, as it has been noted that scammers use deceitful tactics like telling people that the ATM machine needs to be programmed or serviced immediately after they have inserted their ATM card. Walk away and report this to security if anyone tells you something like this.
- If possible, do not carry large amounts of cash, and rather find safer ways to transact such as cell phone banking or internet transfers. Criminals know that people get their salaries and bonuses around this time.
- Do not draw money at night, especially not in a deserted street. Visit one of the many retailers to draw money if they are in a safer setting.
- For visitors – if you need to visit a bank or foreign exchange counter, go to a shopping complex such as the V&A Waterfront or Gardens Centre, etc… to do your banking business.
- Once you have withdrawn cash, do not flaunt it but put it away safely before leaving the ATM machine. Keep an eye on any suspicious-looking individuals.
3. House Robberies
With the holidays fast approaching, there is no better time than right now to prepare well. Pre-holiday stress is a reality and we’ve all felt that ‘Am I forgetting something?’ feeling. Whether we decide to ‘lock up and go’ or whether we decide to call on the services of a house sitter, it is important that we include some smart safety checks in our holiday preparations. Secure Rite shares some great items to add to your checklist.
- Leave a spare set of keys, as well as a contact address, itinerary and phone number, with a trusted neighbour or nearby family member in case of an emergency while you are away.
- Make sure to update your keyholder list with your security partner. The keyholder list indicates who is authorised to be on your property in your absence.
- Ensure your alarm system batteries, sensors and panic buttons are tested at least two weeks before going away. This will allow enough time to get anything serviced or replaced if needs be.
- Notify your security provider that you will be away from home to encourage random house and street visits in your absence.
- Ensure your security partner has the correct contact details for you while you are away.
- Avoid false alarms by making sure all windows and doors are properly closed and locked, trim all shrubs and tree branches that could affect sensors while you are away.
- Keep one or two lights on inside your home. Lamps with timers can work very well.
- Make sure your post box is emptied every two days by a house sitter, a trusted neighbour, or family members.
- Make sure your wheelie bin does not stay out after collection. Arrange that your bin is placed back on your property by your house sitter, neighbour or family members.
- Keep that garden maintained. Nothing screams “we’re on holiday” louder than an overgrown garden. If possible, arrange a garden service at least once a week with a trusted gardener. Make key arrangements before you leave.
- Be discreet about your travel plans on social media.
Tracker has published its vehicle crime statistics for 2020, with the group’s data showing that hijacking remained prevalent during the lockdown period even with a significant drop in vehicle crime. The data, which considered cases from July 2019 to June 2020, is based on Tracker’s more than 1.1 million installed vehicle-based. The statistics reveal that before lockdown, the number of vehicle crime activities rose nationally by 11% year-on-year, driven mainly by hijacking – up 21%. Theft of vehicles, meanwhile, remained at a similar level to the previous year, as reported by Tracker.
The article published by businesstech in August 2020 further revealed some concerning trends around hijacking crime, including:
- The latest data indicates that there has been a shift in the trend regarding the day of week and time of day when hijacking is reported. Hijacking is now prevalent throughout the week, from Tuesday to Saturday, with only slightly less activity on Sundays and Mondays. Some key findings of the report showed that although hijackings occur generally every day of the week, they typically peak on Fridays. More hijackings occur from 12h00 midday, peaking at between 16h00 and 20h00.
- “Hostage-taking is still a daily occurrence and remains a huge concern. Further crime trends noted by Tracker include a noticeable increase in vehicles being targeted for their loads, particularly food items and fast-moving consumable goods.
- Vehicle owners are also being robbed of their valuables and in some instances large amounts of cash during a hijacking incident.
- Now with more cars back on the road, hijackers are seizing the opportunity by pouncing on unsuspecting motorists resulting in a significant spike in hijackings of late, noted insurer Dialdirect in a more recent businesstech article.
“Our claims data shows that hijackings have increased by 20% from 2019 to 2020,”
Here are some basic anti-hijacking safety tips that you can start implementing in your daily drive:
- If you use a mapping service, you can share your route with your family members so they can track your journey. You should look at changing your routine and alternating routes so your schedule isn’t predictable by anyone who may be watching you and targeting your vehicle.
- Be conscious when pulling out of your driveway or coming home at night; most hijackings occur close to home. Around 80% of hijackings happen in driveways. The hijackers have likely been watching your daily habits and choose a day when you are distracted to strike.
- Always look in your rear-view mirror, if you suspect you are being followed, slow down at least two to three houses before you arrive at your house or intended destination. Try and force the vehicle behind you to pass or keep driving past your house and stop at a police station or flag down your local security company for help.
- If you have an electric gate, always open your gate before you pull into your driveway. This will allow for a quick escape if necessary.
- If you do not have an electric gate and your child is in the car, take the car key with you as you open the gate. The car key can be used as a valuable negotiating tool, the criminals will want your car and you want your child.
- Don’t fall for the “tap tap” trap where the driver of another vehicle gently drives into the back of your car in traffic. Never get out of your car to look at the damage. Rather drive to a busy location or a police station. Signal the other driver to follow you. If it’s not a real accident they will seldom follow you to the busy location or the police station.
- Another tactic that is often used by hijackers is forcing a gun into your open window while you are smoking. It is always a good idea to keep your windows closed when approaching a known hotspot.
- Remember to test your tracking device and assist button frequently.
- Always be aware and constantly look at the other drivers and people around you. If you are involved in a car hijacking it is normal to panic. You must do your best to try and stay calm.
5. Bag or Phone snatching/ mugging
Bag/phone snatching can go from happening so fast, you hardly know what happened to a more traumatising affair where violence is used to coerce you to withdraw money for example to extreme cases where a mugging may even result in loss of lives.
Robberies are one of those things that you often hear about on TV but believe, deep down, will never happen to you. However, a quick search on Google News yields thousands of results of people who have recently been robbed, often in broad daylight.
Robberies can happen anywhere at any time. Knowing what thieves look for when they choose their victims, and what you can do to make yourself less of a target, can help you avoid becoming a victim yourself.
- Stay with the crowd – Pickpockets and scam artists love selecting their victims out of a crowd; it makes it easy for them to swipe your valuables and then disappear into a sea of faces without anyone noticing. Robbers, on the other hand, don’t want witnesses, so they gravitate toward shadowy corners and unlit alleys. Always walk with a group and stay in a crowded, well-lit area. Park your car under a street lamp and avoid dark streets and alleys.
- Don’t carry valuables – Imagine you’re a thief casing out potential victims. Who would you rather rob: a woman dripping in diamonds and wearing a Louis Vuitton purse or the nondescript man carrying a worn backpack? Thieves will notice if you’re wearing expensive jewelry, sporting a luxury watch, or carrying a high-end purse or briefcase. Your clothing and car also say a lot about how much cash and valuables you might be carrying. Yes, it’s nice to have and use your expensive items but do so knowing that they might make you a target.
- Maintain situational awareness – Situational awareness means being aware of what’s going on around you and asking yourself if anything or anyone could be a threat to your health and safety. Situational awareness is key in military and law enforcement because staying aware of your surroundings is essential for making sound decisions during life-threatening situations. In civilian life, however, most people don’t maintain any level of situational awareness. They’re listening to music or looking at their phones with no clue of what’s going on around them. We’ve all seen the YouTube videos of people falling down a sewer opening or tripping headfirst into wet concrete because they’re staring at their phones.
- When you’re out and about, put away your phone and pay attention to what’s happening around you. Look at each and every person and determine if they’re a potential threat. Look at their faces, their body language, and their dress. Follow your gut. Paying attention to your surroundings can alert you to potential threats before a conflict occurs and give you a few precious seconds to respond or get away.
- Don’t allow yourself to become distracted by other people. If someone asks you for the time, ignore them or keep walking. Don’t break your stride. It might not be the most courteous thing to do, but it could help you avoid being robbed. If someone asks you for directions and you want to help, maintain your distance while speaking with them.
- Know where to walk – Stay vigilant when turning corners as these are danger zones, particularly at night. When you turn a corner, you’re entering the street blind, especially when you cut close to a building. Attackers often hide around corners to catch people off guard. When walking, always maintain at least a five-foot distance between a corner or the edge of a car. Walk on the sidewalk staying closer to the street, putting some distance between yourself and dark alleys and doorways.
- Last, always walk facing traffic. When you walk with traffic, someone can pull up behind you and jump out of the car to attack, and you’ll never see them coming. When you’re facing traffic, however, you can always see what’s ahead of you.
- Do your homework before you travel- It should come as no surprise that robbers, scam artists, and pickpockets like tourists. They’re usually easy to pick out in a crowd, they don’t know their way around, they don’t know how or where to contact police, and they typically don’t speak the native language.
- If you’re planning an international trip, make sure you research the common types of theft abroad and look up the most common scams and thefts for the area you’re visiting. Also, keep your money safe when traveling by putting your wallet in your front pocket or wearing your purse around your torso, instead of hanging off your shoulder where it’s easier to grab.
Whether we are staying home or travelling this holiday season, staying safe and keeping our loved ones safe is always top of mind. As a trusted Security Partner in the Helderberg Basin, we urge our clients to make sure alarm systems are holiday-ready, ensure we know who your keyholders are should you be away and avoid advertising that your home is empty.
Contact us for all your security needs. Remember, we do security, you do life!
Call us for all your home and business security needs: 0860 10 30 99.
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Web address: www.securerite.co.za