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Acid Car Hijacking Warning

Summary:
Email forward warns recipients that criminals are using pool acid as a weapon to aid in the hijacking of vehicles.

Status:
Unsubstantiated

Example:(Submitted, June 2006)
Subject: Attempted Hijacking Latest style (Pool Acid)

Hi All

We all hear about these incidents and hope it never happens to anyone we know, however the latest styles used by would be hi-jackers are far more horrific than ever before.

Because of the new gun laws and stricter rules regarding ammunition, Hijackers have turned their attention to using Pool Acid, this acid is kept in a syringe or even a small plastic container and then used to blind, daze and disorientate the driver of the vehicle, it also assists them with getting away from the scene more readily.

Please do not wind down your windows, even a small bit at any intersections whatsoever.

Please see below attached report from Discovery Health

lets be carefull out there

Regards

Attached Report
Gavin Osmond (one of our engineers at Discovery) was involved in an attempted hi-jacking on Wednesday night in Rivonia, where a young perfectly nice-looking white guy convinced him into winding down his window at a traffic light, informed him that he wanted his car and then threw ACID IN HIS FACE!!!

Gavin's face was burned extensively and the membranes have been burned off his eyes. He was temporarily blind for a few hours. He is undergoing daily treatments and it will be several months before his eyes recover properly.

DO NOT WIND DOWN YOUR WINDOW FOR ANYONE!!! - Tell your friends and family to be careful.


Commentary:
This email forward warns that hijackers are using pool acid as a weapon to aid in the theft of vehicles. It claims that stricter gun laws are making criminals turn to other methods of coercion, in this case, throwing acid in the driver's face.

Callous crimes of this nature are certainly possible and the specific attack described in the message may have actually happened. However, I have found no evidence to suggest that such attacks are a widespread or common occurrence. Research reveals no credible news reports or police warnings about such acid hijackings.

The message claims that the attached report about the attempted hijacking was "from Discovery Health" and possibly references the South African health care funding company of the same name. However, it appears that the report was in fact copied from a February 2006 newsletter published online by "African Pilot", a southern African Aviation magazine. The newsletter notes that the report about Gavin Osmond was received "from AFOS at Rand Airport". Rand Airport is located in Germiston, South Africa while Rivonia is a suburb of Johannesburg. Johannesburg is a city with a high crime rate and the violent attack on Mr. Osmand may have indeed occurred as described. However, I could find no other references to this attack or to Mr. Osmand's current health.

The original report concerning Gavin Osmond makes no reference to pool acid, syringes or gun laws. Given the lack of other references to acid related car jackings, it appears that someone may have used the Osmond report as a basis and simply made up the rest of the message. South Africa is known for its high incidents of violent car jackings and the crime garners considerable media attention in the country. If such crimes were happening on a regular basis, it is highly probable that they would have been prominently featured in the mainstream media in South Africa if not elsewhere.

The "new" gun laws mentioned in the message probably refer to South Africa's Firearms Control Act which came into effect in July 2004. However, many gun law opponents maintain that such laws tend to control the gun use of only law abiding citizens and have a minimal impact on criminals who are more likely to obtain firearms illegally. Critics of these South African gun laws cite serious implementation problems and point out that there are likely to be a large number of illegal weapons still in circulation. Thus, many criminals may still have access to firearms and would not need to resort to acid as a replacement. In any case, acid seems like a fairly unwieldy choice of weapon for a car hijacking. I would think that a knife, bludgeon, brute force, or a non-violent tactic such as tricking the driver into exiting the vehicle would all be more attractive options for a gunless hijacker than the use of acid. Moreover, acid attacks tend to be crimes of passion that mainly target women, with the primary goal being disfigurement rather than theft. Acid attacks most often occur in South Asian communities.

Carjacking is a real problem in South Africa and other regions of the world and the, often desperate, criminals that commit these crimes use a variety of methods to achieve their aims. Certainly, drivers need to be especially wary of people approaching their vehicle at intersections. And, of course, "young perfectly nice-looking" people (of any race or colour) may not be who they seem to be. However, forwarding vague and unsubstantiated "warnings" such as this one will do little more than cause unnecessary fear and alarm. Even when such warnings may have possessed some validity within a particular community, emailed versions often escape into cyberspace and begin circulating within areas in which they have no relevance whatsoever. Such messages also tend to mutate or become seriously outdated during thousands of subsequent forwardings and any original truth may rapidly become hopelessly diffused or corrupted.

In this case, accessing credible information about protecting yourself from carjacking, and sharing such information with friends and family, is likely to be much more worthwhile an exercise than simply hitting the "forward" button.

References:
Discovery Health
African Pilot Newsletter
SOUTH AFRICA: Gun crime continues to devastate lives
Wikipedia: Acid attack
Driver and Vehicle Safety
New gun law comes into effect

Last updated: 9th June 2006
First published: 9th June 2006

Write-up by Brett M.Christensen