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Crime spike in China a yearly affair before CNY

Publication Date : 30-01-2013


Sheu Ay Shin was out with her niece near the Friendship Store in Beijing last month when she saw her white iPhone slide out of her dark winter jacket.

In a twinkle, it was gone.

It was the third time that the Singaporean had been hit by thieves in Beijing in the run-up to the Chinese New Year, which sees a spike in crime each year without fail as the quick and the desperate try to grab some money before the festival.

The first time was in the winter of 1997. She was at the Kunlun Hotel when some young people walked close to her. In a jiffy, her wallet containing around 3,000 yuan (US$476) in cash was gone.

In winter of 2011, she was shopping with her niece at the popular Tianyi department store when her iPhone was taken.

"I believe they have targets. They observe where you put your phones," Sheu, 50, a general manager, told The Straits Times.

As the start of the Spring Festival - as the Chinese New Year is known here - on Feb 10 nears, China's national Public Security Bureau has called on officers across the country to crack down against thefts, robberies and burglaries.

"There's definitely more crime around the year-end and Spring Festival period," said Professor Li Wenyan of the People's Public Security University of China.

This is when large numbers of people and big sums of money are on the move, say observers. People are withdrawing cash from bank machines or going to crowded places to shop.

And with millions of Chinese squeezing onto trains, buses or boats to head home, there are a lot more chances to steal during the period, said Prof Lee.

"It's easier to strike because there are too many people and thus more chances. Their success rate becomes higher."

Some migrant workers may also be tempted to steal so that they can take back more money for their families, he added.

Film-maker Tan Siok Siok, 41, had her phone stolen last month. She was leaving the Uniqlo store at Beijing's popular Sanlitun nightlife area when she felt someone bump into her.

"I sensed immediately the iPhone in my bag had been stolen," she told The Straits Times.

Sheu believes a booming market in second-hand iPhones has made these gadgets a target of choice for thieves.

In Shanghai, which has seen cases of iPhones being snatched at busy shopping areas, the police are stepping up patrols to deter criminals, said the local media. They have caught about 1,400 suspects from December to early January, or nearly 40 a day.

The fear of being robbed during this busy period can become so great that it overwhelms some travellers, especially those carrying large sums of money, the Chinese media reported.

Last Wednesday, a construction worker caused a commotion at the Qianjiang train station in Guizhou, south-western China, when he started to scatter 100-yuan notes in the waiting room. "Someone's trying to kill me and steal my money," the man was reported to have told the police.

The police later helped him recover the money, which amounted to about 19,000 yuan. He was especially nervous as the money was not just his but also that of four colleagues.

Besides thefts, burglaries of empty homes are common during the festive period, when many go away.

For Sheu, at least the thieves did not get her a third time - she caught up with the man who took her phone, searched his pockets and demanded he return it.

The close shave has made her keep a distance from strangers on the streets these days.

"You become very paranoid. You see people walking past or towards you and you wonder if they are coming after your wallet."


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