Looks can be deceiving and more than one person has fallen victim to becoming complacent because a person they were dealing with turned out to be more dangerous than they initially appeared. A great example of this is the “Gang of Blondes” (Gangue das Loiras) a female kidnapping ring that was believed to be responsible for at least 54 kidnappings between 2009 and 2012 in Sao Paulo and Rio di Janeiro, Brazil. The gang typically targeted middle class women in shopping mall and supermarket parking lots, frequently taking them at gunpoint as they attempted to get in their cars. Two members of the gang would then hold the victim hostage while other members used her credit cards and ATM card, making as many purchases as possible. There are reports that the gang conducted quick, impromptu surveillance on their victims to assess their wealth prior to carrying out the express kidnapping.

While the Gang of Blondes was ultimately caught by police they were successful over at least a three-year period and possibly longer as there reportedly initially began carrying out condominium burglaries before moving on to express kidnapping. Much of their success was undoubtedly their ability to blend into the environment looking like the people they were victimizing and also not looking like the stereotypical criminal or kidnapper. This benign appearance undoubtedly gave them cover to carry out their pre-operational surveillance and allowed them to approach their victims closely in mall parking lots without causing any alarm.

While this group targeted women this strategy is equally, perhaps in some ways more effective if employed against men. Men are even less likely to perceive women as a physical threat and the “honey trap” aspect can further entice them to lower their guard.

The take-away from this is that we need to be careful about making immediate assumptions about whether someone is a threat or not based solely on appearance or gender. We should look more at the person’s behavior and whether it seems incongruous with the environment or setting we are in. This is particularly true at critical times when situational awareness should be heightened such as arrivals and departures. Clearly getting into your car in a parking lot – even in broad daylight – is one of those times. At home or abroad deception is a tool that criminals use to prey on victims and we shouldn’t allow stereotypes or assumptions lull us into complacency.

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