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Hijacking trends revealed | Five places to be extra cautious

A white Mercedes-Benz was hijacked at a Honeydew petrol station in the West Rand on Wednesday after the driver had stopped at a filling station. Video: Intelligence Bureau SA

When you are filling up with petrol or at a nightclub‚ you are potentially at risk.

And with about 85 hijackings a day in South Africa - the equivalent of four every hour - this is good reason to be aware of danger and to take precautions where possible.

“Hijackers are pouncing on unsuspecting vehicle owners wherever the opportunity presents itself‚” commented Warwick Scott-Rodger‚ executive head of Dialdirect.

“Theirs is a multi-million-rand industry where anything from a meticulously planned hijacking‚ to more opportunistic hits‚ are just another day at the office.

"South African vehicle owners have to take this very seriously and be thoroughly prepared.”

According to Dialdirect’s crime statistics‚ the top five vehicle hijacking trends are:

  • Vehicles hijacked at fuel stations. Drivers of vehicles are approached by assailants at fuel stations while filling up with fuel. They approach the driver from his or her blind-spot and force the driver out of the vehicle.
  • Stranger danger. Vehicle owners are approached at social spots by strangers who try to befriend them and later spike their drinks‚ take their keys and make off with their vehicle.
  • Blue light robberies. Vehicle owners are pulled over by imposters posing as traffic or police officials – often in unmarked vehicles. Once they pull over‚ they are overpowered and their vehicles taken.
  • Vehicles taken in house robberies. Vehicle owners are overpowered in their homes and vehicles are taken along with other possessions.
  • Vehicles hijacked after driver is followed home. Assailants follow vehicles home‚ after which owners are boxed in and hijacked in their driveway. Assailants often wait for the owner to enter the property and then block the security gate from closing behind them.

Tips to avoid becoming a victim:

  • Always be aware of your surroundings and look out for anything suspicious.
  • Remain vigilant while filling up with fuel‚ especially at night. Keep doors locked and windows closed while filling up‚ and only open the window when it is time to pay. Keep an eye out for suspicious movement‚ especially in your vehicle’s blind-spot.
  • Do not trust someone who offers you a drink out of the blue‚ or who suggests that you accompany them to a different venue for a drink. Don’t be fooled by the appearance of people who approach you and maintain a healthy sense of scepticism – hijackers often don’t look like criminals.
  • If you are at all unsure of whether the vehicle trying to pull you over is actually an official police vehicle‚ remain calm‚ switch on your vehicle’s hazard lights to show that you are prepared to cooperate and drive to the nearest police station.
  • Be vigilant while at home and keep security gates locked to prevent assailants gaining entry to your home. Ensure that you are aware of where your alarm panic buttons are‚ and that your security company will respond when this is activated. It is also wise to keep your vehicle’s spare keys in a safe place‚ out of sight‚ and do not leave the primary key in the vehicle when parked in your garage.
  • Be vigilant when arriving home and ensure that there is sufficient lighting at the entrance to your property. Be aware of suspicious vehicles following you‚ and if you suspect that you are being followed‚ make a couple of false turns if need be‚ then drive to the nearest police station.
  • Make sure that the way you approach your driveway does not make it is difficult to escape if another vehicle stops behind you. Open your driveway gate while approaching‚ and not only after you have stopped in front of it. When driving‚ leave enough room between you and the car in front of you to avoid being boxed in.
  • Use a GPS to avoid getting lost and becoming an easy target. Inform someone at your destination about your estimated time of arrival.
  • Limit distractions‚ such as checking or talking on your cellphone‚ when walking to or from your car. Avoid distractions while driving.
  • Avoid driving with windows open‚ keep the doors locked and lock valuables out of sight. Install smash-and-grab window protection if possible.
  • Slow down in such a way that the light is green by the time you reach a traffic light‚ especially late at night – this prevents you coming to a complete stop and reduces your risk of becoming a target.
  • Always park in a safe‚ well-lit area.
  • Check the back seat before getting into the car‚ even if you left it locked.
  • Download the Namola app‚ which connects members of the public with emergency services.

There are also eight golden rules to follow if you are confronted by a hijacker:

• Remain calm
• Do not argue
• Do not make sudden gestures. 
• Use the hand closest to the safety belt clip to unbuckle if asked to leave the vehicle.
• Avoid eye contact but try to remember what the carjacker looked like by identifying and remembering special features.
• Comply with the hijacker’s directions (within reason)
• Try and get away from the area as quickly as possible
• Don’t be a hero – your life is worth more than your car

“None of us can afford to think that ‘It won’t happen to me’. We have to be vigilant and thoroughly prepared for the worst‚” said Scott-Rodger.