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Warning over new crime trends at drive-thrus and petrol stations in South Africa

The City of Ekurhuleni in Gauteng has issued a warning to motorists to remain vigilant at both fast food drive-thrus and petrol stations due to a recent increase in criminal activities and scams at these locations.

While there are many locations where a criminal may target a motorist, the city’s law enforcement officials noted that drive-thrus and filling stations are quickly becoming a popular choice for robbers and scammers, with different methods planned for male and female motorists.

Theft at drive-thrus

One increasingly popular method being used by South Africa’s criminals includes targeting vehicles while they are trapped and unable to move, such as on a motorway off-ramp or while paying for a parking ticket, as a recent viral video in Durban showed.

Fast food drive-thrus are the latest hotspot for these attempted robberies, as Ekurhuleni has recorded incidents of thieves barricading a targeted victim’s car while in the queue to order and pick up their food.

With the individual unable to escape, the thieves, who are usually armed, rob them of their personal belongings such as handbags and cellphones, or may even try to hijack the car.

In hijacking cases, the criminals typically wait until the target is near the front of the queue, as this gives them a better chance to make a quick getaway.

Two cars are usually involved, with one following the target from behind to prevent them from fleeing in reverse, while the other car does the same in front with the suspects jumping out and surprising the victim.

Security experts have provided the following advice to avoid becoming a victim of one of these attempts:

  • Keep your bags in the boot where they aren’t visible
  • Have your cash and card on hand for a quick payment and exit
  • Avoid any retail establishments that are dimly lit or isolated at night
  • Keep all your windows and doors closed while waiting for your order
  • Try and only order food at peak times when patronage is at its highest
  • If possible, don’t take children with you to the drive-thru, as they can be distracting

Scams at petrol stations

Petrol stations have become another hotspot for motor-related crimes, as two types of scams have recently been flagged by law enforcement.

The first scenario is usually aimed at women who are more likely to be sympathetic towards “distressed individuals,” though it can be applied to male drivers as well.

It involves a woman approaching a person at a filling station claiming that their possessions have been stolen and asking if she can use a phone to call her husband.

If helped, the phone call to the “husband” goes unanswered and the woman asks the well-meaning individual if they can drive them to their house, which is close by.

The woman then leads the driver to a quiet street where her accomplices hijack them and then take them to numerous ATMs to drain their bank accounts.

The second scenario also involves a woman but is targeted at men, as it aims to exploit South Africa’s new gender-based violence (GBV) laws.

Known as the “school girl scam,” a girl of school-going age in a uniform approaches a motorist asking if she can use their phone to call their mother.

The girl’s aim is to get inside the car, whereupon a person posing as a police officer will conveniently arrive and knock on your window asking what is happening.

The girl will then claim it is a case of attempted abduction and rape, which under the new GBV laws, constitutes an immediate arrest.

It is a blackmail scam where the girl claims she will drop the case for an exorbitant sum, usually in the realm of a few thousand rands, though there have also been reports of scammers demanding periodic payments, or else they will report the “crime.”

To avoid this, security consultants recommend you keep your valuables out of site, alert the station employees if you are approached by someone who appears to be in distress, and lock your doors and never engage with anyone who does not work at the station.

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