By Mariam Mokhtar
We have all done it at some point or other in our lives: We leave home to go to work or to the shops, but before driving onto the road, leave our car unattended for a few seconds, with the engine running, to lock or close the gate.
Not all of us can afford to have electrically operated gates or are privileged enough to afford a maid who comes running to the gate to close and lock it, when alerted by the sound of the horn.
Recently, a woman who left her car for a few seconds with the engine running, turned around only to find that as she was fumbling with the lock, a man had seized the opportunity to drive off in her car.
There was little she could do except watch, stupefied. After seconds of stunned disbelief, her cries for help alerted her neighbours but by the time they came to her assistance, the opportunist carjacker was miles away.
She had not only lost her car, but her mobile phone, her handbag and her laptop which was on the front seat. A police report followed but the policeman said that her misfortune was a common occurrence. People are unaware they are being watched and unaware suspicious characters are lurking about.
Some people consider her lucky. Usually her five year-old daughter would have been strapped in the child seat, in the rear of the car, to be driven to nursery school. That day, her little girl was unwell. The simple carjacking could easily have ended up with her child being abducted.
Do we know who is watching?
We may think we know our neighbourhood well, but do we really know who is watching the inhabitants of the area? Are we fully aware only when we visit an unfamiliar and rough looking neighbourhood? We should also be vigilant in areas which we consider safe and familiar territory. Most of us know of at least one person, who has had a gold chain, handbag or purse, snatched, in supposedly smart areas of town.
One close colleague, a business man, had his workers’ monthly wages, secreted in his briefcase. On the way to the office, he decided to go on a site visit and left the briefcase in the boot of his car. He thought this would be safe. It was something he had done several times in the past.
When he returned, the boot had been forced open, the briefcase was open and the money was missing. He was unaware that he had been trailed from the time he left the bank to collect his workers’ wages. To this day, he does not know if it was an inside job or not. Sometimes, we let ourselves down with our routine.
Beware of tell-tale signs
How many times have we parked our car in a car park or by the roadside and omitted to remove items from the seat or the dashboard? Leaving the satellite navigation system in the car is stupid. Even an innocuous looking packet or plastic bag, is tempting enough for an opportunistic thief. A map would indicate that the car owner is not familiar with the area. Even a circular mark on the windscreen will tell a would-be thief that there is a SatNav in the car.
We’ve heard of drug addicts who remove taps to sell them for scrap. Some people have reported that shoes are removed from the front porches of their homes. Why invite trouble by leaving items in our car, in full view of others?
Despite previous warnings by the police and the media, many women are still careless about how they hold their handbags or display their jewellery. Just a few simple precautions may mean all the difference between being safe or being a victim.
Women can prevent having their handbags being snatched or their gold chains being ripped off if they adopt a few simple measures.
A handbag kept close to the body may deter the would-be bag snatcher. But some women fail to secure the catch or zipper and in a melee, it would be so simple for someone to quietly slide a purse, from the open handbag. Necklaces should be hidden from view.
It is best to keep money and valuables in an inside pocket of your clothing and use your handbag for other things.
Most of all, prevention is better than cure, and being street-smart is just the application of common-sense. It is something which everyone can do.