Everyday, routine activities – like going to the ATM or getting gas – can become crime scenes of low-level offenses that create major headaches and financial loss.
Someone watches a bank or mall customer with their head in their phone.
A seemingly friendly tip to use a tap card at an ATM that’s glued shut.
A phony good Samaritan says you dropped a wallet at the gas pump or a cheerful, chatty chap can’t stop complimenting your outfit.
These are all part of street-level crime trends designed to prey on distracted victims to grab a purse, phone or wallet and take off. All they need is a few seconds, in most instances.
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These three crime trends, known as “jugging,” “tap and glue” and “sliders,” have been around for decades, but have evolved and taken on new shapes, said Kevin Coffey, a travel risk trainer and consultant who was a 35-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department.
“What’s old is new. It’s like pickpockets. They’ve been around forever, but they’re coming up with new ways to be able to engage folks to steal property,” Coffey told Fox News Digital. “Most of them want an easy way to grab a purse, a wallet or a phone. They don’t want to engage in violence. They want to grab something and run.”
Let’s start with jugging.
Criminals will wait in parking lots of malls, stores and banks to pick their prey, who are typically distracted or fumbling with bags, Coffey said.
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“The thieves look for people who have items on them,” he said. “It’s not just the elderly. They’re now looking for people who are younger who maybe came out of a high-end purse store or just bought an iPhone. Everyone is a prime victim today when they have something of value.”
Coffey said the thieves “size people up” to see if they have their heads in the clouds and how much property they have on them.
“One of the prime things is trying to get locations where there are no witnesses,” he said. “They want to strike without any witnesses and pick their spots, so they can’t be chased down or allow someone to get their description.”
In extreme cases, a thief will follow a target home. That typically means the suspect knows they have money or noticed an expensive piece of jewelry, like a Rolex.
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“Those are sophisticated thieves and tend to be more violent,” Coffey said. “Those are the ones you have to be diligent of.”
Law enforcement agencies are seeing a spike in these types of cases over the last few months, particularly in four major regions of the country, including northwest states like Idaho and Washington, in and around southern states like Texas, as well as northeastern and southeastern states like Florida and New York.
A “jugging” attacker left a woman paralyzed in February after following her to a Houston-area shopping plaza. The man reportedly watched her withdraw money from a bank, then tailed her for 24 miles to the shopping center, where he slammed her to the ground and stole her money, according to KRIV.
Police in Killeen, Texas, posted a Facebook video of what “jugging” looks like that read, “Bank jugging is a scheme where suspects park outside of banks and watch customers walk in and out.
“They follow the customer to another location and watch them exit their vehicle. The suspect vehicle pulls up next to the victim’s vehicle, exits the vehicle, breaks the window, jumps into the vehicle, and then exits within five seconds. Taking the money and/or other valuables.”
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Other departments across the country have posted warnings on their social media pages and YouTube channels.
The FBI does not have a crime classification for jugging, which the agency would list as a larceny, robbery, assault or breaking and entering.
“Tap and glue”
If there’s glue inside an ATM’s card reader or it’s jammed with cardboard, that should raise a major red flag, Coffey said.
“Here’s how ‘tap and glue’ works. They’ll glue or stuff a piece of cardboard in the slot which blocks the card. The whole idea is to make sure a card can’t be inserted,” Coffey said.
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Typically, these thieves work in teams and pick a spot where there are multiple ATMs in a row, he said.
Someone, who seems like he’s offering innocent advice, suggests using the ATM’s tap feature to access your bank account.
The victim’s guard is down, they withdraw their money and walk away without ensuring their account is closed.
“If you get your cash and leave without ending the transaction, the thief that’s using the ATM next to you and pretending to be a regular customer shifts over to your ATM when your back is turned, withdraws the max and disappears,” Coffey said.
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ABC 7 highlighted this trend in the San Francisco Bay Area, but word travels fast on social media. Coffey said, “I have no doubt that it’s happening throughout the United States.”
ATM Marketplace issued a warning on March 7 that said, “Multiple customers claim they were approached by a man, when the card reader wasn’t working, who told them to tap their cards.”
“After doing this, they later noticed multiple fraudulent withdrawals,” ATM Marketplace wrote in the warning.
“When customers tap their cards, the account will remain up unless the customer logs out. If they do not, then the scammer can access their account and steal money once the customer leaves the ATM.”
There are challenges about convincing the bank that the withdrawal was fraudulent because technically it was your PIN that opened the account, Coffey said.
The “slider” takes advantage of distractions, especially women at gas stations, said Coffey, who showed a purse during the video interview.
“They want this. This is the holy grail because it has a phone and wallet,” said Coffey, who explained how it works.
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“A woman pulls up to the gas pump, sometimes she has her credit card out of her wallet, and the purse is on the passenger seat and her back is to the car,” he said. “She didn’t hit the lock button, so the passenger door is unlocked.”
Again, thieves typically work in teams. A driver pulls up alongside the unlocked car, the passenger exits the getaway car, gets in the victim’s car and “slides” to the passenger side to grab the purse, and they’re gone before the victim even knows her purse is missing.
“They select their victims typically on the outside pumps to make a quick getaway,” he said. “It’s always important to keep your head on a swivel and hit the lock button. It takes just a second of turning your head.”
Other times, the thieves might throw a fake wallet on the ground and ask if they dropped it or spark up a conversation while their accomplice grabs the victim’s purse.
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Atlanta police saw this trend surge over the summer in 2021 and issued a warning to motorists.
“Usually, these crimes take place at gas stations,” they said in a statement. “Sometimes the thief will actually steal the car, but more times than not they will grab belongings from the car, then hop in a trail car to leave the scene.”
Tips to protect yourself and what to do as a victim
The simplest thing to do is “always be aware of your surroundings,” Coffey said.
“It’s situational awareness. Whenever someone approaches, be asking yourself why? Why are they engaging me? Are they trying to divert attention to pickpocket me or do they actually want to have a conversation?”
Another good habit to get into is looking over your shoulder when getting your car or going through a doorway.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the suspect is right on their heels. A quick glance over your shoulder is good to see who’s around you,” he said.
If you feel like you’re being followed, especially in places like a train platform, pretend to wave and yell out a fake name. “Hey, Mike. Hey Susie. It’s a distraction for the suspect,” Coffey said.
He also recommended planting tracking devices in your purse, wallet or luggage, and sharing the information with law enforcement if something is stolen.
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