It’s the holiday season but amidst all the fun and cheers, there is danger lurking around. There is that constant threat that makes us clutch our bags a little tighter and walk a little faster. It is the painful unspoken side of receiving a really pleasant gift. It stirs up in us the terrible fear of losing everytime we receive something. I am talking about a seriously dark magic. I am talking about the evil art of thievery. Yes, stealing involves magic: “Now you see it, now you don’t.” This can even be followed by the evil inner laughter of the perpetrator. And, as evidenced by the following theiving techniques, it requires skill and art. The following techniques are modus operandi I and people I personally know actually witnessed or experienced so none of these are made up. All these involve grave moral danger so don’t try these at home all.
- #1 – The Venomous Spit Technique
- This technique involves someone spitting on you, another person offering help and another person actually taking your stuff. This is practiced by what most call the Dura (“spit”) Gang. Kat (not her real name) became a victim of this. She was just walking along a side walk when someone suddenly spat on her. Eeeeew! Someone then came up to her and offered her help. Distracted, Kat talked to the stranger while she opened her bag to find tissue. After wiping the spit off, Kat realized that her bag was still unzipped and that her laptop was already missing.
- How to Avoid This: Try not to lose your temper or your head when someone spits on you. Calmly remember where you are. If you’re in an unfamiliar area, don’t open your bag anymore. It would also be better to just carry tissue and other things in your pocket or in your bag’s pocket so that you wouldn’t need to open the main section of your bag every time you need something (change, tissue, alcohol, etc., except valuable, see why in #2).
- #2 – The Coin Toss Trick
- Hulog Barya (“Coin Drop”) is another method by which thieves distract their potential victims. This worked on Ann (also not her real name). She told me that the sound of the coins hitting the floor of the LRT station really caught her attention. The coins even bounced a bit and she tried to follow where these went so that maybe she can pick up some. By the time she stood up; however, she noticed that the phone in her pocket was already gone. Someone stole it from her when she bent down.
- How to Avoid This: Yes, free money can really be appealing but no, there is no such thing so keep your head up. I did mention above that it would be safer to keep things you need in your pocket than in your bag, but this advice does not include valuables because pockets bulge when there are gadgets in them. Pockets do provide quicker access for you, but it also provides quicker access to the thieves around you. One way to prevent your phone from getting stolen is to chain it to your belt or to keep the phone in a small bag pocket (facing you) and avoid bringing it out in public.
- #3 – The Vanishing into Thin Air Spell
- This is one of the simplest thieving techniques but it’s probably quite hard to master. It’s also painless during the act of stealing but it surely stings afterward. This technique magically results in something precious to you just vanishing into thin air without you even knowing that it’s gone until you try looking for it. I lost a phone on my birthday, thanks to this technique. A lot of people were greeting me so I had to take my phone out quite often. Towards the end of the day, I couldn’t hear my phone anymore. That’s when I noticed that my bag was open and my phone was already gone.
- How to Avoid This: Don’t wear backpacks on your back in public places. Yes, you may find other ways of wearing backpacks (like in front or at the side) funny but this is better than losing stuff in your bag. Also, keep your gadgets where other people could not easily see them. You may be already flaunting them without intending to do so. I realized that it was my carelessness that attracted whoever took my phone.
- #4 – The Dopleganger Chase
- This is another interesting technique which requires more than two people in order to be successful. Robert (not his real name too) was in a bus when he felt someone steal his wallet from his back pocket. He immediately turned around to see a guy rush away from him and get off the bus. Suspecting that this was the thief, Robert also got off the bus and chased the suspect. Because Robert was muscular and athletic, he was able to catch up with the suspect and grab him by the shoulder. He then asked the guy if he could take a look at his wallet. Robert looked at the man’s wallet and discovered that it wasn’t his. More men came to surround Robert and offer that he take a look at all their wallets. Robert looked at each wallet one by one, but failed to find his. He then left disappointed. It was only when Robert was already on another bus that he realized that he could have gotten into some serious trouble. The men who offered him their wallets were all knew each other and were in cahoots with the one who actually did the stealing. One guy stole Robert’s wallet and passed in onto another guy so that when Robert caught up with him, his wallet was already with someone else. The rest of the people in the group simply brought out wallets they stole from other people while making sure to keep Robert’s.
- How to Avoid This: Men often prefer to keep their wallets in their backpocket but guys, be careful. Also, Robert’s first reaction was to pursue the man who stole from him but he realized how unwise his reaction was. He ended up getting off the bus in an unfamiliar place with a group of guys who were all in connivance with each other. More often than not, your life is more precious than whatever your wallet contains so be prepared to just let it go when it’s gone.
- #5 – The Subtle Samurai
- A sumurai can really slice clean and a blade in the hands of an expert can also do the same to our pockets. I was on a bus once and I didn’t feel anything out of the ordinary. It was only when I got home that I realized that the back pocket of my pants was cleanly slashed. The damage was obviously not accidental because it was very neatly done. Of course, all my pocket contents were already gone by that time. Luckily, by contents, I just mean P20. The same technique can also be used on bags.
- How to Avoid This: Avoid putting anything in your pocket that will bulge and make it look interesting. Longer tops that can cover the butt area can also be a slight deterrent against this.
- #6 – The Horror Taxi
- Camille (another name I’m just arbitrarily using) rode a taxi from work at around 6pm and we found her kilometers away in a very dark street outside her usual route home passed 2am crying. In between 6pm and 2am, three men got into her taxi, and abused and threatened her. They took all her gadgets, all her atm and credit cards, he phone, everything! This happened just last Christmas season. Luckily, despite minor physical injuries, she was able to go home from the hospital after the incident a day later.
- Seeing a friend go through the painful process of healing from such a trauma was also painful for me, but I am proud of Camille because she has been really fighting to live her life (and commute) normally again.
- How to Avoid This: As much as possible, don’t ride cabs alone. If you have to, make sure to text the taxi’s plate number to someone you who will be looking for you in case you don’t arrive at your destination on time. Also, taxi’s in the Philippines are also supposed to have their numbers written inside the cabs, on the doors right below the windows. If the taxi doesn’t have this, you can doubt if its legitimate. Sit at the corner of the back seat and not in the middle where you will just leave space between you and both doors. Finally, make sure to lock the door of the taxi and pay attention to where the driver is taking you.
- #7 – The Boy Who Cries Werewolf
- My friend, Andrew (fake name), is a big guy who also rides a motorbike. He was desperately craving for a certain kind of ice cream one night so rode to go to a more or less isolated 24-hour convenience store. Along the way, a boy flagged him down. He later told me that he just thought that the boy was just going to ask him for directions. He stopped and the boy suddenly sliced his lower back with an ice-pick. He didn’t feel the wound at first. He just thought he was punched so he reacted by immediately accelerating to leave the place. At the same time, he saw a number of guys coming towards him. He even bumped into a wall was lucky enough not to fall down during his escape. It was only when he was already on the main road that he realized that his shirt was wet because he was bleeding so he drove himself to the hospital
- How to Avoid This: Don’t trust just anyone who looks cute and innocent. Try to stick to main roads when driving at night. Oh, and just look for that special kind of ice cream at another time if you can.
The tips I shared about how being a victim of these modus operandi can be avoided are unfortunately no guarantees. If we want a substantially more secure life, we would have to go beyond just personal precautions (without, of course, undermining the importance of these). From a bigger perspective, crimes are symptoms of grave social ills. Our reality is marked by poverty and loss of values. We live in a world where it’s becoming even more and more difficult for us to trust one another. It is from this depressing horizon that I think about January 1, 2013. The end of each year and the beginning of a new one presents me with a choice between despair and hope. And I choose hope. I choose to keep longing and working for a transformed world where smiles don’t have to be second guessed and where gifts are shared, not stolen. Who’s with me?
- Top 4 Ways to Protect Your Gadgets: Phone Deactivation Service Joins Essential Anti-Theft Measures (smartsign.com)
- 6 Ways To Be Safe in Rome (globaltravelguide.co.uk)
- Don’t Be A Victim: Practical Tips To Protect Your Smartphone From Theft (makeuseof.com)