Overseas Filipino workers, balikbayans, and foreigners visiting the Philippines for vacation or returning for good may not be aware of the various forms of criminal activities preying on unsuspecting victims.
Fortunately, such modus operandi is well chronicled so travelers to the Philippines should be aware of the tell-tale signs of such crimes that may target you or a stranger next to them.
Whether an old-timer or a newbie, awareness of the situation is the key to crime prevention and bringing perpetrators to justice.
The National Capital Region Police Office has compiled a list of various forms of modus operandi aimed at taking your properties and possibly putting your life in danger.
ATM (Automated Teller Machine) Scams
Scene of the crime: Usually in the vicinity of ATMs, where scammers try all sorts of things to make a quick buck at the cost of unsuspecting card owners.
Plan of attack: ATM scammers have become more technology-savvy through the years. For instance, in 2007, they used magnetic rulers to trap money, surveillance cameras, external keypads to get PINs, and scheme machines to read ATM card information. In 2008, they used a detachable aluminum contraption and some sort of paste to trap money.
In 2009, police discovered a new kind of scam, ATM card switching. 24 Oras explained how the M.O. works: If you have just withdrawn money from an ATM, a scammer may approach you and tell you that you left a P500 bill behind. He or she will suggest that you check your ATM balance.
As you do so, the scammer will sneakily memorize your PIN and drop a P500 bill on the ground. When you pick it up–as you are most probably inclined to do–the scammer will swipe your card and replace it with a fake one.
Defense mechanism: In the 24 Oras report, the public is advised to lock ATM booth doors when they are inside, bring someone along when withdrawing money, cover the keypad when typing the PIN, and move to another ATM when there are suspicious people around, among others.
The Zesto Gang
Scene of the crime: Not as visible anymore as they were years ago, the Zesto Gang members scam bus passengers through quick tactics of distraction, confusion, and intimidation. Named after the eponymous juice packs, the gang sometimes doesn’t even sell actual Zesto juice packs.
Plan of attack: A Zesto Gang member comes up to you in a bus, with bills of cash folded lengthwise and wound around the fingers by denomination in typical bus conductor style, and nonchalantly asks, “Ilan?” (“How many?”) Thinking he or she is the bus conductor, you say how many people you’d like to pay the fares of, not knowing that the scammer is supposedly actually asking how many juice packs you’d like to buy.
After getting your money, the gang member magically produces juice packs from out of nowhere, swiftly pokes straws in them, and shoves them in front of you. And even if you doth protest to say, “But I thought…” or “That’s not what I…,” you will curtly be told, too late, “Naitusok ko na eh,” meaning they can no longer be sold, thanks to your (purported) hearing deficiency, and so rather than make a fuss or argue, you just sip in meek silence. Even more appalling? Scammers jack up the price of the juice pack to as much as ten times the actual price.
Defense mechanism: You might try feigning sleep as FHM Managing Editor Allan Hernandez does. Seriously, check out loud if the person asking for your money is indeed the conductor replete with the requisite ID, bus tickets, and uniform, the top of which can range from a short-sleeved polo to a casual polo shirt with an embroidered bus logo (but beware, this too, can be faked). Look behind him or her for a mysterious pail or bag of juice packs!
Sneaky Office Intruders
Scene of the crime: Thieves prey on workplaces with little or no security, usually during lunch hour or the afternoon break when employees leave their desks.
Plan of attack: Taking advantage of offices’ downtime, these intruders sneakily work their way in. They may take on different disguises like posing as an employee’s friend, visitor, or as messenger–complete with a Visitor’s ID.
They target valuables like mobile phones, cash, laptops, and credit cards. Saksi reported in April 2009 how a woman was caught on camera stealing the wallet of Sandy Wong, an employee of a review center in Quezon City. The suspect slipped inside the office and stole the wallet containing cash and seven credit cards.
By the time Wong reported the credit cards missing, four of them had already been used. Over P50,000 was charged to her. When the suspect tried to buy a laptop worth P23,000, the store tipped off Wong, and the police arrested a certain Liza Garcia. Upon reviewing the CCTV footage, it was found that Garcia was not the same woman seen inside Wong’s office.
Defense mechanism: Unless your office has implemented extremely tight security measures, it is wise to bring your valuables in a small bag wherever you go or lock them up somewhere thief-proof.
Definitely a hassle but it’s a lesser struggle compared to slaving away to pay for someone else’s shopping splurge. If an intruder has already hit your workplace, report the incident immediately. File charges if security catches him or her.
Scene of the crime: Car thieves trail you from the airport and repeatedly attack your car until you are forced to give it up. Based on the reported incidents this year, this scheme is usually executed before dawn.
Plan of attack: Carnapping suspects are believed to pick victims among passengers seen at the airport terminal before dawn, according to Inquirer.net. Once their chosen passengers are on the road, they repeatedly bump the rear portion of their victims’ vehicle, forcing them to stop. If they don’t, the carnappers speed up to the front of the victim’s vehicle and cut off their way. The carnappers don’t pick a particularly secluded area probably because the pre-dawn darkness gives them privacy.
For instance, it was on C-5 Road in Pasig City where four men hijacked the van of Jorge Bernas, former Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s son-in-law, with his family onboard. About a month later, an American national and his Filipina wife and stepson were attacked at the intersection of EDSA and Shaw Boulevard. Unlike the family of private individuals that survived the EDSA incident relatively unscathed, Bernas was shot twice in the stomach and once on the left arm. It was reportedly because he resisted the armed men and shouted for help.
Defense mechanism: The Philippine Star columnist Cecile Van Straten (a.k.a. blogger Chuvaness) suggests “booking a flight that doesn’t arrive in the early hours of the morning,” “avoiding C-5 and Shaw Boulevard, especially at odd hours,” and “locking your doors at all times (and stepping) on the gas… if somebody bumps your car,” among others. This is also applicable to other major highways in the country.
Test Drive Threat
Scene of the crime: Carnappers pose as buyers who will test drive the car you’re selling–and later steal it at gunpoint.
Plan of attack: Faux buyers respond to your “car for sale” ad and ask for a test drive. So, of course, you accompany them. Later, they drive the car to a secluded area where they force you out at gunpoint. Talk about seller’s remorse.
Defense mechanism: To avoid this carnapping trap, it’s best to let a seasoned used car dealer handle the sale, says Top Gear associate features editor Dinzo Tabamo. If you want to sell the vehicle yourself, Tabamo suggests you dictate the test driving route and bring along one or two companions. If the “buyers” balk at this, then you should refuse to let them take your car for a ride. We also suggest discreetly taking photos of all potential buyers before you go on a test drive. This way, if they turn out to be thieves, you’d have something the police could use to hunt them down.
Scene of the crime: Condominiums, apartment buildings, and townhouse compounds, according to 24 Oras. Plan of attack: Thieves invade units that are left unlocked or simply break into random units. Once inside, they ransack the place for valuables. To top it all off, some thieves also vandalize the units they invade.
Defense mechanism: Lock the door even when you’re inside the condo unit. Add a chain lock (this one, if you dare). Ask the landlord to beef up the security or at least make sure the guards aren’t sleeping on the job.
Scene of the crime: During a show or event, crooks sneak into the area behind the stage or inside the dressing rooms, where the commotion provides great cover for their criminal activities.
Plan of attack: Thieves can easily pose as aides, assistants, yayas, or utility personnel and blend in with the crowd. They can pick up, say, a laptop, a wallet, or a designer bag and quickly run, or even casually and nonchalantly walk off with it without anyone knowing or minding.
Defense mechanism: If you’re part of a show, event, or function, designate someone to watch over your belongings at all times or designate a locked room or office as a holding room for your belongings. Notify the authorities if you notice any suspicious-looking people sneaking around, although thieves do have a knack for blending in.
Scene of the crime: Salisi Gang members lurk anywhere where there are people–malls, restaurants, fast food joints, computer shops, bars, and clubs–and are just waiting for you to get distracted. Even the toniest hangouts of the elite are not exempt from these chameleons who have mastered the art of blending in and the art of distraction.
Plan of attack: Just because the person next to you is dressed well or “looks normal,” it doesn’t mean he or she has no criminal intentions. The gang members either divert their victims’ attention or wait until their targets are distracted before they move in for the kill.
In a video that was supposedly shot in a major fast food chain, a trio successfully steals a handbag from a nearby table (pay attention to the woman on the left). The bag owner realizes what has happened a few seconds too late.
The CCTV footage shot one night at a hip lounge in The Fort revealed a pack of attractive, fashionable young women working as a group but sitting at separate tables and ordering drinks like the other patrons. Each woman would flit about from table to table. At the end of their covert operation, the footage showed that one of them had filched a total of five evening clutches from various customers!
Defense mechanism: Constant vigilance! Keep your bag on your lap (not behind you on your seat) and be cautious about leaving it on another chair, and keep an eye on it at all times. Bring a bag hook so your bag is kept under the table. Don’t casually leave your cellphone, laptop, or camera on the table where it can easily be grabbed in a split second.
Take precautions especially when out at night. Thieves are only too happy to see inebriated women in clubs dancing with wild abandon, unmindful of their evening bags, phones, and cameras exposed on cocktail tables, ready for the taking. Wear a wrist-strap clutch instead and keep all your belongings in it.
Scene of the crime: This group robs affluent homes by tricking unsuspecting house helpers into helping them get to the homeowners’ cash and valuables stash. Plan of attack: Remember that PLDT caller I.D. commercial? That’s basically how the Dugo-Dugo Gang operates. After casing a household, the gang members wait for the opportune moment when only the helper is in the house.
The scammers call and pretend that a family member has been hurt and needs money for a surgery or medical procedure of some sort. Then they pressure the helper into forcing open the family safe, locked drawers, and the like to get cash and other valuables. The helper is then told to turn over the loot to the gang members.
Defense mechanism: Tell helpers and everyone in the house about this scam. To find out if they actually remembered what you said, pretend to be a Dugo-Dugo Gang member and make them go through a drill. Take it a step further by rewarding those that keep their wits about them.
Scene of the crime: The Budol-Budol Gang can strike anywhere using their alleged powers of hypnotism and “boodle” or counterfeit money–hence the name–that turn out to be just sheets of paper. Interestingly, Google Translate says “budol” means “gullible person.”
Plan of attack: Their M.O. may have evolved over the years but here’s their basic tactic: They lure or blackmail their victims into giving them valuables or cash in exchange for a bag filled with fake bills or products. In one reported instance in 2008, two suspected Budol-Budol Gang members managed to get a cellphone, a Walkman, and P2,000 from an unidentified 16-year-old girl in Cebu. The male and female suspects claimed they were looking for a vehicle to transport their things.
Before they went to search for a vehicle, they asked the girl to hold on to a bag supposedly filled with money. In return, they got the girl to give them her valuables as a sort of safety deposit.
It wasn’t long before the girl discovered the bag contained only fake bills. In 2005, a victim identified only as Marie claimed some Budol-Budol Gang members hypnotized her into giving them her money, jewelry, and mobile phones. She said she did not remember much after a man allegedly engaged her in small talk while she was walking along Ortigas Avenue.
All she could recall was getting inside a certain van, drinking a glass of water, and handing over two years’ worth of savings to her seaman husband. All that in exchange for a black bag stuffed with sheets of paper.
Defense mechanism: First of all, bear in mind one of the first things everyone learns as a kid: Don’t talk to strangers. Of course, that can’t be helped sometimes so remember another basic rule: Don’t accept candy from strangers.
In this case, if strangers are giving you something as “sweet” as a bagful of cash, you better refuse. If you’re afraid of being hypnotized, find out how the controversial phenomenon supposedly works to avoid succumbing to it.