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Stolen vehicles found fitted with a fake licence disc and fake number plates have offered a glimpse into the manner in which hijacking syndicates operate and how easily they are able to get away with crimes because of technological advancements.

Technology allows syndicates to continue to stay one step ahead of the police. As soon as a new safety measure is implemented, criminals are able to work around it.

They have a network of accomplices, from authorities whom they are able to bribe to influential businessmen and corrupt government institutions.

Like similar criminal organisations worldwide, vehicle hijacking syndicates in South Africa employ various strategies and tactics to steal vehicles and evade law enforcement. It's important to note that these activities are illegal and harmful, and this explanation is intended for educational purposes only.


Here are some ways in which hijacking syndicates operate and evade capture:


  • Violence and Intimidation:

  • Hijackers use violence and intimidation to force the driver out of the vehicle.

  • They may use weapons like firearms or knives to threaten the driver, making it difficult for the victim to resist or report the crime immediately.

  • Fear of physical harm discourages potential witnesses from intervening or providing information to the police.

  • Stolen License Plates:

  • Syndicates may use stolen or counterfeit license plates to disguise the stolen vehicle's identity.

  • This makes it more difficult for law enforcement to track and identify the vehicle as stolen.

  • Remote Jamming:

  • Criminals sometimes use electronic devices to remotely jam the signals of key fobs, preventing vehicle owners from locking their cars.

  • Hijackers then easily get into the unlocked vehicle when the owner walks away.

  • High-Speed Getaways:

  • Hijackers are known to make quick and daring getaways to avoid capture.

  • They may drive at high speeds, disregard traffic laws, and take dangerous routes to shake off pursuing law enforcement vehicles.

  • Chop Shops:

  • Stolen vehicles are often taken to illegal chop shops, where they are quickly disassembled.

  • The parts are sold on the black market, making it nearly impossible for law enforcement to trace the stolen vehicle.

  • False Plates and Vehicle Alterations:

  • Criminals may change the appearance of the stolen vehicle by altering its physical features, such as repainting it, changing the vehicle's appearance, or applying false vehicle identification numbers (VINs).

  • This makes it challenging for authorities to identify the stolen vehicle based on its original characteristics.

  • Networks and Informants:

  • Criminal syndicates have networks of informants who provide information on potential targets or police movements.

  • This helps them plan and execute their crimes more effectively.

  • Corruption:

  • In some cases, corrupt law enforcement officials or individuals with connections to organised crime may assist hijacking syndicates by providing information or looking the other way.

  • This further hampers law enforcement efforts.

  • Technology:

  • Criminals may use technology to track vehicles, monitor law enforcement communications, or disable vehicle tracking devices, making it difficult for authorities to locate and recover stolen vehicles.

  • Geographic Challenges:

  • South Africa's vast and diverse geography can pose challenges for law enforcement, especially in rural and less-developed areas, where response times may be longer.

  • Cybercrime:

  • As probably the fastest-growing crime in society today, cybercrime criminals allow syndicates to falsify vehicle registration documents.

  • These owner verification documents are forged at such a high quality that it is almost impossible to see the difference between an original and a fake at first glance.


The latest crime statistics by the SAPS, measuring the period from April to June 2023, show that 9,081 motor vehicles and motorcycles were reported stolen during this period.

For hijackings specifically, 2,591 sedans, coupes, and hatchbacks were stolen, while 1,582 bakkies were reported stolen.

The Western Cape and Gauteng regions recorded the largest number of carjackings.



  • Resale Value:

  • Stolen vehicles can be sold on the black market or through illegal channels, often at a fraction of their actual value.

  • Syndicates make a significant profit by reselling stolen cars.

  • It could be that they are fulfilling an order for a high-end vehicle, like a Toyota Land Cruiser or Lexus SUV.

  • Chop Shops:

  • Carjacked vehicles are sometimes taken to illegal chop shops, where they are disassembled, and their parts are sold separately.

  • This is a lucrative business, as individual parts often have a high resale value, and it's challenging for law enforcement to trace stolen vehicles once they are dismantled.

  • Getaway Vehicles:

  • Stolen vehicles are sometimes used in other criminal activities, such as armed robberies or burglaries, as getaway vehicles.

  • Syndicates use these cars to quickly escape crime scenes.

  • Criminals on the high-end level of crimes do not keep the vehicle for long.

  • In other cases, we see criminals using stolen vehicles to crash into cash-in-transit vehicles or use them for ATM bombings, sometimes leaving the car on the scene.

  • Transportation for Other Crimes:

  • Carjackers may use stolen vehicles to transport drugs, weapons, or contraband, as using a stolen car helps them avoid detection by law enforcement during routine checks.

  • Payment for Debts or Favors:

  • Some individuals involved in carjacking syndicates may be coerced or motivated by debt, favours, or promises of financial compensation.

  • Thrill and Adrenaline:

  • Some carjackers are motivated by the thrill and adrenaline rush associated with the act of stealing a vehicle.

  • This psychological motivation may drive some individuals within these syndicates.

  • Lack of Economic Opportunities:

  • Socioeconomic factors, such as high levels of unemployment and poverty in some areas of South Africa, can lead people to engage in criminal activities as a means of survival or economic gain.

  • Carjacking may be seen as a quick way to make money for those with limited opportunities for legitimate employment.

  • Limited Law Enforcement Presence:

  • In certain areas of South Africa, the presence of law enforcement may be limited, allowing carjacking syndicates to operate with relative impunity.

  • Corruption and Organized Crime:

  • In some cases, carjacking syndicates may have ties to organized crime, and they may benefit from corrupt individuals in law enforcement or other government institutions who protect or assist them.

It is important to note that while these factors contribute to carjacking incidents, this behaviour is illegal and harmful, and it victimises innocent individuals.

Efforts are made by South African law enforcement agencies and communities to combat carjacking and improve public safety. This includes implementing stricter law enforcement measures, improving vehicle tracking and identification technology, and raising public awareness about carjacking prevention.

Addressing the root causes, such as socioeconomic challenges, is crucial to reducing the prevalence of carjacking in the long term.



  •  There are incidents where a vehicle is hijacked and left after criminals remove certain valuable parts.

  • The demand on the black-market continues to encourage criminals to diversify their crimes in many ways.

  • For example, hijackers might steal the computer box (also known as the Engine Control Module or ECM) of a vehicle for several reasons:

  • Vehicle Theft:

  • One common motive for stealing the ECM is to steal the entire vehicle.

  • Modern vehicles often have immobilizers that require the correct ECM to start the engine.

  • By stealing the ECM, thieves can bypass this security feature, making it easier to steal the car.

  • Resale:

  • Some thieves steal ECMs with the intention of selling them on the black market.

  • These components can be expensive, and there is a demand for them, especially for specific car makes and models.

  • Stolen ECMs can be resold to unscrupulous repair shops or individuals looking for cheaper replacements.

  • Vehicle Stripping:

  • Criminals involved in the illegal car parts trade may steal the ECM as part of a broader effort to strip a vehicle of valuable components.

  • The ECM contains critical information about the vehicle's engine performance and can be valuable to those involved in the illicit market for car parts.

  • Extortion:

  • Criminals may steal the ECM with the intent of extorting money from the vehicle's owner.

  • They demand a ransom to return the ECM, effectively holding the vehicle's functionality hostage.

  • Insurance Fraud:

  • In rare instances, individuals involved in insurance fraud steal the ECM to make it seem like the vehicle was stolen, to be used as part of a false insurance claim to recover money from the insurer.

  • Vehicle Tampering:

  • Hijackers may steal the ECM to tamper with the vehicle's performance, safety features, or emissions control systems.

  • This can be done to modify the vehicle for illegal activities, such as street racing or to disable tracking devices.

It is essential to safeguard your vehicle and its components, including the ECM, through appropriate security measures, such as parking in well-lit areas, using anti-theft devices, and keeping your vehicle in a secure location. Additionally, having comprehensive insurance coverage will help mitigate financial losses in case of theft or tampering.

To combat vehicle hijacking syndicates, South African law enforcement agencies have implemented various measures, including increased police patrols, public awareness campaigns, and improved vehicle tracking and identification technology.

Addressing this issue requires a multifaceted approach, including community involvement, stricter law enforcement, and efforts to tackle the socioeconomic factors contributing to crime.


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Mike Bolhuis

Specialist Investigators into

Serious Violent, Serious Economic Crimes & Serious Cybercrimes

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