South African hijackers are using the ‘blue light’ method – and an increasing number are taking hostages

Vehicle recovery firm Tracker has published new vehicle crime statistics for the year July 2018 to June 2019, outlining some of the common hijacking trends across the country.

The statistics – from Tracker’s 1.1 million installed vehicle base – cover vehicle theft and hijacking, and provide insight into the time of day and day of the week when vehicle crime is most likely to occur in South Africa.

According to Tracker’s data, the techniques employed by criminals are unchanged from the previous year. However, the group said that it had seen an increase in certain types of hijackings.

These include:

  • Hostage-taking: Tracker said that it has seen an increase in hostage-taking during hijackings. The group said that an average of 29% of its activations result in a hostage being taken.
  • Law enforcement: Tracker said that criminals are impersonating law enforcement officials in order to commit hijackings – a method otherwise known as blue light robberies.
  • Spike drinks: Tracker said that hijackers will sometimes spike drinks to take advantage of unsuspecting victims.
  • Classifieds: Hijackers are targeting motorists using online selling platforms, where sellers hand over goods on receipt of a fake payment.

“Many people go about their regular driving activity on auto-pilot without much awareness or consideration for what is going on around them. Criminals recognise and take advantage of this complacency,” said Ron Knott-Craig, executive operational services at Tracker South Africa.

“To avoid being an easy target, we need to stay alert and be vigilant. Avoid distractions while driving and pay attention to your surroundings. Don’t believe it could never happen to you.”

“Also, try to remember as much detail as possible to provide a good description to authorities, such as the location where the crime occurred, clothing and appearance of the hijackers, and any other information that may assist authorities in identifying and apprehending the perpetrators.”

The National Hijacking Prevention Academy (NHPA), meanwhile, has also published updated information about hijacking in around the country, including target areas for criminals.

According to the group, it has become increasingly difficult to steal locked motor vehicles due to new anti-theft technologies, which has led to a dramatic increase in vehicle hijackings.

Hijacking information – from a hijacker

Insurance group Dialdirect has noted a 30% increase in hijackings over the past year (June 2018 to June 2019). Maanda Tshifularo, head of Dialdirect Insurance said: “While some hijackings are meticulously planned, others are opportunistic, with hijackers taking advantage of being at the right place, at the right time.”

Jason Mordecai, managing director of 7Arrows Security said that hijackings at residences and public hotspots have increased over the past three years, with hijacking syndicates operating as well orchestrated businesses, employing individuals who are incentivised to deliver certain car models on demand.

Mordecai said that while there will always be certain car brands that are targeted by hijackers on an ongoing basis, all makes and models are at risk.

A convicted and now reformed hijacker, “Bra T”, was recently interviewed by anti-crime activist, Yusuf Abramjee on Crime Watch on eNCA, sharing insightful information on how hijackers operate and how they identify their targets.

How many cars do hijackers typically steal?

A team of four hijackers – often numbed out by alcohol and drugs – will take 30 to 40 cars per month, and could get as many as five or six cars per day.

How are targets selected?

Hijackers operate according to their clients’ “shopping list”, which specifies exactly what make and model of car they need, how many they need and when they need it by. When it comes to identifying areas and victims, hijackers will target areas where there’s a higher chance of getting the specific car that they need, without presenting too much risk to themselves.

People on their way back from shopping malls make for ideal targets, as they usually carry cash or cards that could be an added “bonus”. Hijackers will often force their victim to share the PIN to their bank card, sometimes holding them hostage to ensure that the PIN provided is correct, and/or to make multiple withdrawals.

Where and how do hijackers strike?

In public spaces, hijackers will follow a target at a distance, later moving closer and striking at a traffic light. They often use a strategy of bumping into their victim and making them think that it is an accident to get them to exit their car. Driveways are also a prime hijacking hotspot, where hijackers typically box in a victim before the access gate is completely open.

“If you’re asked to get out of the car, use the hand closest to the seat belt to unclip it, and don’t make any sudden gestures. Avoid eye contact, comply with the hijacker’s requests and don’t be a hero – remember your life is worth more than your car,” Mordecai said.

Read: South Africa’s worst hijacking hotspots

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South African hijackers are using the ‘blue light’ method – and an increasing number are taking hostages