New styles of robbery find a world market

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The Independent Online
NEW crime techniques are readily exportable and the United States, where the automobile rules, has led the way in the means and methods of car criminals, writes Martin Whitfield.

Simple carjacking - armed robbery of a motor vehicle - increased by more than 11 per cent last year in the US to 21,113 incidents, according to FBI figures.

Statistics for car related thefts, threats and stop-light robbery are not collated.

Car hijacking is not just a problem in the US. In South Africa, more than 12 incidents are reported each day, while tourists in France this summer were warned of attacks by the 'BMW' gang, preying on foreign motorists near Lyon.

Pistols are the favoured weapon of American car thieves. The vehicles are often reused for other crimes before being abandoned or broken up for parts in 'chop-shops'.

Armed robbery has become the preferred method of stealing vehicles as electronic security systems have become more sophisticated. Doors on American cars automatically lock when gears are engaged.

'It is a lot easier to wait till the car is at a stop-light and stick a gun in someone's face than to try to break into a car that is alarmed,' an FBI spokesman said.

Robbery at traffic lights, car parks and petrol stations is more common in northern American cities while car 'bumping' is favoured in Miami. New York's car thieves have concentrated on parking garages, where attendants are threatened and told to hand over vehicle keys.

'There is always violence or the threat of violence, even if it is only being yanked out of the car by your hair or clothes,' the FBI said.

The copycat nature of car crimes is clear, with the same techniques employed in different countries. Stan Kivell, a South African car security expert, said carjacking was popular because it was easy. He warned: 'It's the up and coming way of stealing a car all around the world.'