Signs of wealth are magnet for crime
Published: Aug 29, 2013 07:23 PM
Illustration: Lu Ting/GT

Illustration: Lu Ting/GT

You could be excused for wondering if there's been an increase in crime in Shanghai given that two local courts have issued sentences in kidnapping cases this week. However, it's just a coincidence that the courts announced the verdicts in the same week. In fact one case happened in December last year and the other in February.

In the December case, a man from Anhui Province drugged, kidnapped and murdered a woman and stole 44,300 yuan ($7,238) from the woman's bank accounts. He was sentenced to death on Wednesday. The man said he would appeal.

The man got to know his victim while taking a driving course where they shared a driving teacher last year.

According to a press officer from the Shanghai No.1 Intermediate People's Court, the defendant planned the whole thing and the court handed down the death sentence due to the brutality of the murder, which the court believed to be premeditated.

The man was in financial ruin as his advertising company in Shanghai kept losing money. He asked to borrow money from the woman but she refused him, according to the court.

In the February case, three unemployed men have been sentenced to six years in prison for abducting a woman and attempting to ransom her for 3 million yuan.

According to media reports, the three men were gamblers who had been out of work for one to two years. One had a large debt. They waylaid the woman in a shopping mall parking lot in Pudong New Area. The woman had driven a luxury car that day to a gym in the shopping mall. The three men were not satisfied with the 100,000 yuan offer from a bank account the woman claimed to have access to. Instead, they made a phone call to her husband demanding a ransom of 3 million yuan. The husband reported the situation to police and the trio were nabbed within nine hours. Luckily the woman was rescued.

Both women in the cases were seen as wealthy, which perhaps explains why they were targeted.

Does appearing to be rich make you more likely to be targeted by a criminal and how are potential victims of crime judged to be rich?

I have to mention an incident my colleague encountered this Tuesday that shocked our office. My colleague, a female reporter, was nearly robbed on her way to a bank on Weihai Road in Jing'an district around noon. She was carrying an iPhone and a wallet in her hands at the time. A man in his 20s tried to grab the phone and wallet from her. As she did not relinquish her grip, they both fell on the ground during the confrontation where they continued to grapple. The incident occurred on a busy stretch of road where there are two banks, restaurants and convenience stores nearby. Hearing her cries of protest, several bystanders including security guards witnessed the incident. But nobody stepped in to help her. Afterwards, they said that since she only shouted a string of "ahs" and did not cry for help or explicitly say that she was being robbed, they assumed it was a lovers' quarrel and didn't take it seriously.

Luckily, the would-be thief noticed that he had attracted a crowd of onlookers and he fled empty-handed. My colleague escaped without injury or loss of property.

In the two court cases, the fact that both victims were connected to cars seems to be key. In the attempted robbery case, a high-end mobile phone was the likely incentive.

At present, vehicle ownership is still a symbol of wealth in China. Even those who attend a driving course are regarded as rich. They are potential car owners. And in China, the comparative cost of buying and maintaining a car is higher than in many countries. Although some would argue that an iPhone doesn't represent wealth, to many others, owning a phone worth several thousand yuan means something.

When a man is poor, he has many financial troubles. But when a man is rich, another kind of financial trouble follows. Friends, family members, distant relatives, colleagues, social organizations and even strangers may ask for favors. They may take it for granted that your wealth should have some relation to them since they have relation to you. They ignore the hardship you have suffered to become rich. Many rich people in China are afraid to be called selfish and miserly, so smart rich people hide their wealth and may even pretend to be poor to save further trouble.

When the lottery was first introduced in China, there was a grand ceremony to announce and introduce the lucky winners. But now, everything is quiet. According to previous media reports, lottery winners were inundated with requests for money from all kinds of people because of their overnight wealth.

These cases remind us that even those with a modest income are still richer than others. Indeed, most expats are aware that many locals assume they are wealthy simply because they come from a developed capitalist country. Shanghai generally feels safer than many big cities, and indeed, it mostly is. But it's still advisable to protect income and property privacy to avoid potential trouble.

The author is the managing editor of Global Times Metro Shanghai.