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The new hotspot for hijackings in South Africa

South Africans are advised to be extra vigilant at petrol stations following a considerable uptick in criminal activities at these businesses in recent months.

Authorities have noted an increase in the number of vehicles hijacked at filling stops, and the stations themselves are also becoming a popular target for ATM robberies and other forms of theft.

This is according to Louis Nyahunda, Senior Research Fellow at the Tshwane University of Technology’s Department of Law, Safety, and Security Management.

What to watch out for

Speaking to SABC News, Nyahunda said that the increase in reported incidents at petrol stations is a big concern.

The main things criminals are targeting at petrol stations are ATMs, the cash in convenience stores, and motorists’ cars and personal belongings.

One recent high-profile incident resulted in the murder of Kaizer Chiefs defender Luke Fleurs during an attempted vehicle hijacking at a fuel stop in Honeydew, Gauteng, while another involved an attempted ATM robbery at a station in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga.

According to Nyahunda, petrol stations have been identified as an ideal location by criminals because of a lack of security, a lack of devices to counter crime, inefficient and poor policing, and is a one-stop shop for criminals targeting anything from cellphones and wallets to cars and even people.

Drivers are therefore advised to stay alert while filling up, keep the doors locked, and take note of their surroundings and any suspicious characters in the area.

If you are the victim of a hijacking, it is incredibly important to remain calm and comply with the hijacker’s demands, as this avoids escalating the situation and ensures that the hijacker gets away from you as soon as possible.

Another activity to be aware of at petrol stations involves scammers and kidnappers profiling individuals pulling into the service area.

In late 2023, two types of criminal efforts were flagged by security experts and the police, one of which targeted men while the other targeted women.

The so-called “schoolgirl scam” targeted men with young women of schoolgirl age claiming the man had kidnapped them in an attempt to exploit the country’s new gender-based violence laws and extort money to hush it up.

The other plan targets female drivers and aims to exploit their sympathy by having a woman claim that she has been stranded and needs a lift, whereupon the victim drives them to another location where they are hijacked or kidnapped.

Petrol stations are not the only places that have seen increased criminal activity since the start of the year, as hijackers and thieves are also targeting school and sports events, in addition to drive-thrus.

Big events are a tempting prospect for criminals as there are typically a large number of cars that are left unattended for hours at a time, and school activities are one of the more recent events to become a mark for these groups.

Drive-thrus, on the other hand, are chosen because the victim is usually unable to flee the scene, as the criminals work in groups with two cars and box them in the queue.

According to the South African Police Service (SAPS), 5,973 cars were hijacked between October and December 2023 – roughly 66 cars per day.

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