• Sunday, Sep 26, 2021
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Beware of the masked menaces

  • Published at 07:50 pm April 19th, 2020
covid masks suits
Photo: REUTERS

There exist criminals looking to prey on people during these difficult times

In a pharmacy at College Gate in Dhaka, three masked men reportedly came to buy medicines. At one point, when one of them was keeping the seller busy, the others took out weapons and threatened the shopkeepers to hand over the cash without creating a fuss. In seconds, the robbery was done and the guys skedaddled in the waiting vehicle. 

Just last week, in another incident, a night guard at an apartment block just outside the city was sagacious enough to keep the main gate closed when five masked people, two dressed in PPEs and the rest in military-type uniform, wanted to get into the apartment, stating that there was a coronavirus-affected patient who needed immediate emergency attention.

In such cases, any guard would have opened the door but this man refused to budge, asking the group to call the respective apartment owner to tell him to call the guard’s phone or the apartment intercom. Naturally, the swindlers could not phone the apartment. 

However, they persisted but, when no amount of persuasion worked, left with a threat that they would come back in the morning to confront the guard for not being cooperative.

Obviously, the next morning no one came. 

In the time of the coronavirus, caution is needed not only about washing hands and staying safe, but also about imposters, swindlers, and con-men who may devise ingenious plans to deceive the unsuspecting person(s).

A haven for criminals
With the city taking a desolate look and becoming sparse after 6pm, criminals can move about freely, often wearing masks to conceal their identity. While some methods have been tried already, there will be many others, with each becoming more convincing. If criminals move in an ambulance, then their operation becomes even more fool-proof.

The ATM booths are particularly vulnerable because they are looked after by a lone guard who does not even have a stick as a defensive weapon. For ATMs located near markets, the risk is lower but those on the main roads may become targets. 

In these times, employing two guards, especially for the night shift, can work as a deterrent.

Impersonating a nurse
This has not taken place as yet, though we need to be alert because for quite some time, a large number of women have become involved in a variety of complex swindles in the city. The inclusion of women in fraud began a decade ago with the fake expatriate women marriage schemes in which a young, attractive, and trained woman would be presented as an expat looking for a husband who would be taken abroad and given citizenship. 

The lure of going to a first-world country pulled men who often sold family property to get married and buy the wedding jewelry. The marriages were held with some relatives of the women present who were part of the con group. On the wedding night, the groom would be given a heavy dose of sedatives and the girl would flee with the jewelry and other valuables.

Under the current predicament, with a sense of unease everywhere, common sense is often eclipsed by irrational behaviour. 

If a group, which includes female nurses in uniform, comes to an apartment in an ambulance, there may not be any suspicion at all. While the medical team may be genuine, it may also be a gang of fraudsters. 

When we think of criminals and crime, the image of men usually pop up. The reason is that, culturally and socially, we have been primed into believing that women are usually more moral, compassionate, scrupulous, and hardly engage in crime.

It’s time to overhaul the faulty beliefs and be extra cautious when women appear at the doorstep with the offer of help. This means verifying first the intention of the visit with phone calls and checking identity cards before opening the main gate. 

There are many honest men and women in uniform helping others, and the amoral acts of a few can tarnish the image of the majority of such workers who are out there to help, not hoodwink.  

To keep Shakespeare in mind with a little twist: The devil can cite scripture for his or her purpose. 

Towheed Feroze is a journalist and teaches at the University of Dhaka.

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