South Africa’s criminals are going after a new target

Fuel tankers are a target for criminal syndicates on South Africa’s roads, as vehicle thefts and hijackings show an upward trend.

This is according to new data published by vehicle-recovery and fleet intelligence company, Netstar, a subsidiary of Altron.

“We have seen a rise in reported incidents of hijackings from our customers in the first six months of this year,” said Netstar operations executive Charles Morgan. “From January to June 2022, the incidence of hijackings and thefts among our customer base rose by 24%.”

Morgan said there have also been incidents involving the hijacking of fuel tankers belonging to Netstar fleet customers.

This comes at a time when the country has seen fuel prices skyrocket. “There are indications that fuel tankers are becoming a target,” said Morgan. “In a recent case, a fuel tanker was hijacked by a criminal gang after midnight.”

Netstar said its recovery rate for stolen and hijacked vehicles averages above 90%.

“Although Netstar has a high recovery rate, we are seeing a significant increase in incidents, and fleets and their cargo remain at risk,” warned Morgan. “We recommend that operators of tanker fleets be extra vigilant and take all measures they can to protect their drivers and their vehicles.”

Other trends identified by Netstar include a spike in vehicle thefts during the morning hours, followed by a surge in hijackings during the afternoon and the evening. During May and June, daily vehicle hijackings reached a peak in the period between 19h00 and 20h00.

“Our data indicates that hijackings are more common in the evening hours,” said Morgan. “Hijackings are also the most common way for vehicles to be stolen, among our customer base. This implies that criminals may find it easier to steal a vehicle through a contact crime like hijacking than by stealing an unattended vehicle.

“This may be because there is no need to circumvent alarm and immobiliser technology when the driver is at the wheel.”

Netstar’s breakdown of theft and hijacking incidents by province indicates that Gauteng is by far the primary hotspot for vehicle crime. In June this year, 51.2% of the vehicle-theft crimes Netstar recorded in the country happened in Gauteng. KwaZulu-Natal recorded the second most incidents with 23%, while the Eastern Cape and the Western Cape both registered around 6% of incidents.

Changing trends

Tracker South Africa said in June that criminal syndicates are changing how they hijack victims. Duma Ngcobo, the chief operating officer for Tracker South Africa, said that as vehicle technology has improved, with many cars now having a ‘push to start’ button, criminals have had to adapt.

He pointed to a rise in using key re-programmers and signal grabbers. He said that criminal syndicates change their modus operandi, and trends change all the time. Trends also change frequently based on location – for example, more hijackings are taking place in Johannesburg while more car thefts are in Pretoria.

This was echoed by Netstar, who said that criminals are developing new methods to target cars that use more technology, such as cars with start buttons.

This applies to some vehicles where you have the key on you, and you simply push the “start” button to drive the vehicle. These vehicles also unlock when you approach them without you having to press the unlock button, noted Netstar.

It added, however, that many of the tactics used by criminals remain the same and listed the following ways these types of vehicle-related crimes are committed.

  • “Police hijacking”/Blue light gang activity where criminals pose as law enforcement officers.
  • They remove your number plate, drive next to you and show you the plate; when you stop, they hijack you.
  • They physically bump you, and when you get out to inspect the damage, they hijack you.
  • They show you that you have a flat tyre; when you stop to check, they hijack you.

Stealing fuel

Tankers are not the only ones who need to be aware of increased criminal activity, with authorities also encountering instances of individuals having their fuel siphoned.

Traffic officers in the Western Cape encountered criminals siphoning diesel from a truck in the province. The suspects had siphoned off approximately 125 litres of diesel by the time officers came across the scene.

The officers recovered a large number of drums and pipes used to extract the diesel.

The provincial government warned motorists to be aware of opportunistic criminal acts of this nature and to be alert at all times.

“While the ‘fill up and dash’ phenomenon is not new, this type of incident is something else and was an incredibly opportunistic and dangerous thing to do,” the government said.

“Even if the suspects had gotten away, travelling with large amounts of fuel in makeshift containers would have been very risky.”

Read: Massive jump in hijackings in South Africa – these are the hotspot areas

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