The financial hardship brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic has made people more desperate and could lead to a further escalation in the typical increases of certain crimes during the festive season.
This is according to Fidelity Services Group CEO Wahl Bartmann and Bull Security operations manager French Jooste, who recently spoke to MyBroadband about what they expect with regards to crime over the holiday period.
Bartmann explained that Fidelity had observed a significant increase in opportunistic crime such as smash and grabs, cellphone snatchings, and muggings.
“We are still seeing a great deal of unemployment and financial strain as evidenced by all the latest research,” Bartmann said. “Many citizens may have become more desperate due to job losses, or loss of income and therefore are more prone to crime.”
“We believe this trend may continue through the December period as more people are out and about,” Bartmann warned.
Jooste echoed this view and blamed the lockdown for an increase in unemployment in the Pretoria East area in particular.
“We noticed a lot of beggars on street corners – more than ever – and it happened very suddenly. At the shopping malls, we get daily complaints of beggars walking around asking for money,” Jooste said.
Avoiding house robberies
Bartmann and Jooste warned that house robberies and burglaries were the most likely crimes to increase during this time.
“It’s a given that house break-ins will increase in the next two months – each year is the same,” Jooste warned.
He explained this was primarily because many people were away from their residences for extended periods of time, which gave burglars the opportunity to steal without interruption.
As December is a bonus month for many workers, it is common for people to upgrade their household items – including TVs, home theatre systems, laptops, and tablets.
Jooste cautioned that burglars were aware of this, and advised people not to leave empty boxes for expensive products outside their home as this was an “open invitation to show criminals exactly what you bought”.
He further advised people to be careful about what they share online.
“Remember, criminals also have social media and use this as a tool to pick their next victims,” Jooste said.
Bartmann explained that the COVID-19 restrictions may convince many families to stay at home instead of going away on vacation.
This could mean that there would be more situations in which household members come face to face with criminals.
“Thieves are also taking the opportunity to raid yards and properties that have open gates and garages. Bicycle theft is a prime example,” Bartmann added.
Bartmann and Jooste provided a number of tips to help South Africans keep themselves and their homes safe.
These tips included the following:
- Get a trustworthy house-sitter if you are going away for the holiday and ask them to remove any post from the postbox or newspaper from the driveway.
- Let your dogs sleep inside at night to prevent them from being poisoned.
- Be wary of power outages at your home as criminals often switch off the mains in order to run down an alarm system’s batteries.
- Make sure that your gate opens and closes as quickly as possible – This means less time sitting in your driveway or the road where you are a vulnerable target to hijackers.
- Ensure that the motor has a locked box covering to stop any attempts at tampering.
- Be aware of your surroundings and of being followed home or of any suspicious cars or people in your neighbourhood.
- Be an active participant in your neighbourhood watch WhatsApp group if you have a suburb or road grouping.
- Check bushes and trees on your property regularly to ensure they are not affecting your perimeter security. Branches should be cut back to prevent blocking or impeding the effective functioning of your perimeter security, or where they may be used to climb into and access your property.
- Make sure that beams are installed correctly and at the optimal angle to increase their range and effectiveness. It is also important to make sure that these beams are not obscured by shrubbery, or near reflective surfaces to prevent excessive false alarm activations.
- Carry remote panic buttons with you at all times at home and equip your domestic staff with remote panics.
- Check that your alarm is armed at all times and that everyone within the household – including domestic staff – know when and how to use the alarm system and panic buttons if these are installed.
- Make a list of emergency contact numbers and post them on or near a phone. If you have not been informed of the arrival of delivery people or service providers, do not open the door, even if they insist that they have an appointment
- Do not open the door for unexpected ‘delivery people’ or ‘service providers’
- Keep your details updated so that your security company must know exactly how to get hold of you, or the details of anyone you have asked to look after your property while you are away.