Estimated reading time: 13 minutes
If there’s ever a time when crime is at an all-time high, it’s after a disaster strikes. Some of that crime comes about because people can’t find what they need; but that’s not the only reason people turn to crime.
Our society has its share of two-legged predators who are just waiting for an opportunity to strike. Disasters give them that opportunity. Others, who might not otherwise commit crimes, can find themselves in a position where they feel forced to steal in order to meet their family’s needs.
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We can break the people who do these crimes down into three different categories of people:
First, there’s the normal criminal element, those who commit crimes as a way of life and who see the disaster as an opportunity. With the police being tied up dealing with the disaster, they sense that their chances of being caught are diminished.
Second, there’s always a portion of the population who are not criminals, only because the law keeps them in check. However, something like a disaster can push them over the edge into actually committing crimes.
Third, it is said that desperate people do desperate things; and considering that most people aren’t ready for a disaster to strike, it’s easy for a disaster to make them desperate. They’ll commit crimes because they don’t see any other way of taking care of their families.
Generally speaking, the first two categories of criminals will steal things for their personal enrichment. The looters who were stealing big-screen televisions during the flooding of Hurricane Katrina fall into this category. While they might also steal food to eat, it will be because they see the food while stealing something else, probably not because they headed out looking for food.
In a sense, the third category is the most dangerous, because they are driven to do what they are doing rather than it being “business as normal.” That means that they will not follow the normal operating methods of other criminals.
They will be much more open to confronting their victims and trying to force those victims to give them what they want. Whereas normal burglars aren’t armed with anything more deadly than a pocket knife, these people will probably be armed and willing to use their weapons.
Another factor that has to be taken into consideration is the actual disaster that has struck. Are we talking another Hurricane Katrina or are we talking about the collapse of society? What about an economic collapse or a collapse of the supply chain?
We’ve all seen how seemingly ordinary people can go berserk when that year’s favorite Christmas toy runs out in the stores; what about when their kids are crying because they are hungry?
So, just what sorts of crimes can we expect people to commit during such times? Each past disaster gives us clues into what we can expect in the wake of a disaster; but perhaps the best such example is the Argentinean financial collapse of 1999.
Other than wars, that is the most complete disaster with the clearest collapse of social order that we have reliable information about. Venezuela is a good example as well, although the information coming out of Venezuela isn’t as reliable.
Now let’s take a look at specific types of crime that will be common during a societal breakdown.
1. Scams & Fraud
We are already seeing a lot of scams and fraud today, to the point where it has become commonplace. Much of that has come about because people in the countries where the scams originate are desperate and unable to find work, so they turn to online scams to make money.
With the ready access to the internet available today, it’s easy for literally anyone to get involved in online scams. Most people put their entire life’s history on social media, giving the scammers all of the information they need in order to run their scam operations. Some of those scams can even be run with the victim thinking it’s a friend or family member who is contacting them.
An SHTF situation would definitely create an environment which would push more people into using some sort of scam to meet their needs. If we don’t take action now to remove our personal information from online platforms and protect it, then we are setting ourselves up to be their victim.
Fortunately, there are ample other people around, so if we do remove our information, they’ll just skip over us and go on to the next potential victim.
Protection of passwords is critical to avoiding online scams. Too many people use passwords that are on the “top 100 list,” like the word “password” as their password. Then there are the ones who answer the online quizzes, giving one-word answers to a list of things. Hackers then use those words, trying them out as passwords for those people’s accounts.
2. Looting & Burglary
Probably the most traditional crime to follow any disaster is that of looting. Criminals and would-be criminals are quick to take advantage of any disturbance as an opportunity to steal. While looting happens mostly to stores, it’s really the same crime as breaking into someone’s home to burglarize it.
Looters and burglars aren’t going to be looking for a stockpile of food; they’re going to be looking for things that have a cash value. That means televisions, guns, jewelry, and other things that can be pawned for a buck.
The one good thing that can be said is that they will most likely avoid occupied homes and businesses, not wanting the complications of having to deal with someone who is there.
There’s a whole list of things that experts recommend to avoid making your home a target for burglary, so many that we don’t have time to mention them all here. Several of the most important of these involve not making it obvious that you have anything worth stealing. If people don’t know that it will be worth their time to break into your home, they’ll go looking for somewhere else to break into.
In addition to that, anything that makes it likely they will be seen such as automatic cameras and lights are going to help keep your home safe.
3. Mob Violence
One of the most common reactions to problems that affect large numbers of people’s lives is to lash out at those in authority. This lashing out generally takes the form of mob violence, perhaps starting out as a peaceful demonstration, but quickly turning angry and violent as people let their pent-up frustrations out and the mob mentality takes over.
This happened a lot in Argentina when the value of their national currency crashed. An angry mob is a dangerous thing, capable of overturning cars, smashing the windows of stores, burning down buildings, and killing people.
The key to protecting yourself from mob violence is to avoid the mob. They are most likely to form in places of public meeting, such as in front of government buildings, in parks, in the town square or in plazas. Those are places to avoid in the midst of any SHTF scenario, just to avoid being where a mob might form.
Vandalism goes hand-in-hand with that mob violence. While vandalism isn’t something that normally happen in residential areas, it is something that may affect businesses and workplaces.
There is little we can do to stop it, except to be physically present in our business and ready to defend it. Even then, extreme care should be taken, as the mob may not care that you’re there.
5. Rage Crimes
People are going to be angry in such times and may take that anger out on anyone they see. Road rage, gang attacks on the streets, and other similar atrocities are likely to occur spontaneously and without warning. These can be both group and individual attacks, and there’s really no way of recognizing those who are likely to perpetrate them.
Defending against such attacks requires a combination of being able to defend yourself and having good situational awareness. These attackers are creatures of opportunity and generally prefer to catch someone by surprise. If you’re looking right at a group of people walking down the road towards you, there’s still a chance they will attack you; but not as much of a chance as if you had your head in your phone.
Besides being ready to defend yourself, your best course of action is avoidance. Don’t do things that are likely to raise other drivers’ ire, especially if any of those other drivers already look mad.
Avoid groups of people who look like they’re together, especially if they look like they might belong to the same group. Taking the long way around may seem like a waste of time; but an altercation with someone who is mad and looking for someone to take it out on is going to take a lot more time.
During the Argentinean collapse, carjackings became so commonplace that people didn’t stop at stop signs and red lights. They’d slow down to make sure it was safe to cross the intersection, then hit the gas before anyone could approach their car. If they saw someone approaching their car, they would do whatever was necessary to put distance between themselves and the other person.
Carjackings are about stealing the car in order to sell it on the black market and make some money. That will probably mean just selling it for parts; but they don’t care how much they get, just that they get something. If they have to drag you out of your car so that they can steal it, that’s not a problem in their eyes. They’ll even throw in a couple of good blows or kicks for good measure.
A subset of carjackings is when the criminal sticks their hand through an open window, grabbing what they can, whether it be a phone or a purse. Again, the idea is getting whatever they can for the purpose of selling it. So whatever they can grab, they will, even if it doesn’t look valuable.
While I imagine that it was pretty effective for the people of Argentina to simply drive through stop signs, there is a risk associated with that. It’s an easy way to get into an accident.
A simpler solution is to make sure that the windows are up and the doors are locked when driving. Then, when you come to a stop, look around for anyone carrying something they could use to break a window. If you see anyone like that, try to drive on through.
Related: How to Survive a Carjacking
Kidnapping for money became such a big thing in Argentina that it was referred to as the country’s biggest cottage industry. We’ve largely eliminated kidnapping here in the US, as that is a crime that almost immediately brings the FBI Into play. That’s more than most criminals want to deal with.
But in Argentina, things became so bad that even middle-class children couldn’t be allowed to go outside to play by themselves for fear that they would be kidnapped.
That’s not to say that kidnappings for money couldn’t come back to this country, if times got bad enough. Chances are high that the FBI, like other law-enforcement agencies, will be overwhelmed and overworked in the wake of a SHTF scenario.
With that being the case, criminals may see kidnapping as a workable means to get money. They will target mostly the rich and upper-middle-class, kidnapping children and possibly women as well.
Should things reach that point, it will be necessary to keep constant guard over our wives and children. One Argentinean I had contact with told me that he had never owned a gun in his life. But he ended up buying one after their collapse just so he could protect his family.
Kidnappers are looking for victims who aren’t going to cause them a lot of trouble; not someone who is going to shoot them before they can run down the block.
8. Home Invasions
Home invasion differs from burglary in that it happens when people are home. Criminals who invade homes rarely work alone, preferring to be in groups of two or three. That gives them a tactical advantage, as they outnumber at least the adults in the home they are attacking.
During the Argentinean collapse, home invaders would lie in wait just around the corner of the house, waiting for someone to open the door. They would then rush the door, gaining entrance before the inhabitants could close the door again.
Here in the United States, it’s even easier for them to gain entrance as all they have to do is give our front doors a good swift kick with a booted foot to get the deadbolt to break out through the door frame.
In a post-SHFT time, home invaders will most likely be after supplies rather than riches and wealth. They’ll be purposefully invading homes when they are sure the residents are there, so they can force the inhabitants to give them the supplies they have without having to search for them. To accomplish this, they’ll likely threaten the lives of family members.
There are ways of fortifying a front door, making it considerably harder to break into. In addition to that, care should always be taken when opening the door, checking to see that nobody is hiding in the bushes or around the corner of the house. Diligence in seeing them before they can force their way into the home is the best defense against these criminals.
Related: How to Prepare for a Home Invasion
Protecting yourself and your family from these likely crimes could almost be a full-time job. But a few definitive actions could make all the difference in the world.
First, make sure your home, vehicle, and anything else you possess is secure. I don’t just mean secure in the sense of having a deadbolt on the door, but in having a door frame that the deadbolt can’t break through as well. Most home security advice is based on stopping burglars that don’t want anyone to see or hear them. That’s a totally different situation than what we can expect to encounter in a post-SHTF world.
Second, make sure that you and any other family members who are old enough to do so are prepared to defend themselves. Whether that means carrying a gun or becoming a martial arts expert is up to you; just make sure that if you plan on using something less than a gun against a criminal who has a gun, that you are ready to deal with their gun and take it away from them.
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