I recently received an e-mail describing the modi operandi of the top 17 criminal groups in the country and would like to share the information through this blog.
I do not mean to present the Philippines as a country where one’s safety can not be guaranteed. The Filipino people are in fact known throughout the world for being warm, friendly and hospitable. And many tourists who keep coming back or have moved to the Philippines can attest to that.
This post is, in fact, meant to inform and educate us all, whether residents or visitors here in the Philippines. Crime groups operate everywhere in the world and we need to be aware of their activities in order to take the necessary precaution and prevent the loss of our possessions.
Sometimes, foreign tourists who come to the Philippines are victimized by these gangs when they allow themselves to be too trusting of strangers. I would suggest to foreign visitors to exercise judiciuosness when travelling. As a rule of thumb, it would be wise not to do things that one would not do in one’s home country. This way, they could be guaranteed of a considerably pleasant vacation not only in the Philippines but in any other destination.
Below are the names of some of the top criminal groups in the Philippines that mostly operate in public places with a description of how they conduct their criminal activities.
Where they operate: Hotel lounges, coffee bars, cafes, and restaurants frequented by perceivably wealthy tourists and businessmen
Suspects are typically well-dressed, mild-mannered, and project an aura of legitimate businessman or an affluent matron; complete with jewelry, attaché case and other props to appear and look wealthy.
The perpetrator moves closer to the would-be victim and waits patiently until the victim is engrossed in a serious conversation with a companion or leaves his/her bags and other belongings unattended. In a swift motion, the perpetrator takes the unattended bag or belongings and casually leaves the place.
Another variant, involves two or three accomplices who distract the would-be victim by engaging them in a conversation, often pretending to know the victim from somewhere or ask for a lighter. When distracted, the accomplice takes the unattended bag or belongings of the victim.
Another tactic involves a perpetrator who loiters around the hotel’s front desk and waits for a guest to deposit his room key or is busy conversing with the Front desk staff during registration. Once the victim is already busy talking with the front desk staff, the perpetrator makes his move by walking beside the victims and grab the bags or belongings unattended in a swift motion and casually leaves the location.
Where they operate: malls, sidewalks, schools, public buses, and jeepneys
Tutok-Kalawit involves a man or woman suddenly hugging a victim like they are old friends. In truth, the con man or woman is discreetly poking a sharp object on the side of the victim while quietly telling him to turn over his cash and valuables.
Another variant of this criminal tactic would be two thieves accusing a victim of something bogus. The victim would naturally deny the charge and confront his accuser. The thieves would then ask the victim to show his/her ID. Since IDs are usually kept in wallets, thieves will grab the wallet from the victim and run away.
Where they operate: bars, boardwalks, restaurant, and other tourist spots
Ativan perpetrators commonly victimize foreigners who roam alone in public places. The group is usually composed of three (3) to four (4) males or females who befriend the would-be victim. After gaining trust and confidence, the victim will be taken for a ride to other tourist sites and during meal time, the victim will be brought to their house usually situated in a squatter colony where the victim will be treated for lunch, snacks, or dinner. The served drink is spiked with Ativan – a powerful anti-depressant/ sleeping pill. Even before finishing the drink, the victim will succumb to a deep sleep and while sleeping, will be stripped of his cash and valuables and will be brought out of the house and left at a completely random location.
Another variant of this tactic is when a male victim is seduced and picked-up in a bar, restaurant, park and/or a tourist site by a gorgeous female, well-dressed and well-mannered. The victim will be approached and befriended until a casual conversation and seduction process takes place which culminates in negotiated sexual activities. The victim will either be brought to a pre-arranged hotel/motel or to his own hotel room. Once at the designated room, the victim will be offered liquor or drink which the perpetrator mixes with highly potent Ativan pills. Once the victim is unconscious, the suspect will divest the victim of his cash/valuables, and then leave the victim at the scene. Most of the victims of this crime wake-up after two to three days and it takes another two days before the victim can fully recover from the drugs and discover the losses.
Where they operate: crowded areas such as passenger jeepneys, railway stations, and malls
Ipit gang members operate in groups of four or five. Gang members shove or push a prospective victim to distract him or her, while their accomplice picks his pocket. In jeepneys and buses, suspects squeeze-in and distract their victims while their accomplice snatches the victim’s wallet and/or mobile phone.
Where they operate: malls, airports, restaurants, and coffee shops frequented by perceivably wealthy tourists and businessmen
Budol-Budol is a transaction scam principally involving a supposed bundle (budol) of cash that is actually padded inside with sheets of paper cut in the size of money. Only the exposed sides however are real money, everything in between are plain paper cuttings.
Budol-budol gang members are often described as sweet-talking, charismatic, and convincing. Other victims even report having been hypnotized by the group.
Reports and stories of the Budol-budol operations vary from a balikbayan (returning overseas Filipinos) urgently needing a huge amount in Philippine Peso in exchange for his dollars, to a stranger’s emergency offer to swap his bundle of cash with a mobile phone or an expensive piece of jewelry. After gaining the potential victim’s trust the two parties barter their items – the bundle of money for whatever product the to-be victim is peddling. Mobile phones and jewelry are the most commonly lost items. Some high profile cases involve rare paintings, expensive furniture and millions worth of checks to the Budol-budol gang. After the deal is made, the gang and the victim splits.
Another, more sensational and dramatic variant of this crime is the use of fake gold bars, which the suspects use as bait for their victims. The ploy commonly used involves a Filipino treasure hunter or a Japanese survivor has knowledge of a secret Japanese fortune which was plundered by the retreating Japanese Army during World War II which is yet to be completely recovered. A sample of the gold bar is shown to the would be victim for physical examination and since the gold bar actually looks genuine, an offer is made to sell the whole fortune by asking the victim to pay half the cost of the gold bars under terms and conditions agreed upon. One of the conditions is that the gold bars can be delivered or a map can be provided and brought to the site where the bars can be dug up. After the payment, the perpetrators will never show up and the victim will soon discover that the gold bars which were delivered or unearthed from the site are gold plated lead bars.
Where they operate: airports, hotels, restaurants, malls, and public parks frequented by foreigners and balikbayans
Common victims of this are foreigners, balikbayans and their dependents who are lured into exchanging their foreign currencies into pesos at a rate higher than the prevailing exchange rates. The group/individual approaches and offers a tempting high rate to the would-be victim.
During the transaction, which usually takes place outside or right in front of a foreign exchange shop, the equivalent peso is counted before the victim three times. Initially, the victim is allowed to count the money he will receive to make him feel confident that he will get the exact amount for his foreign currency. After, a recount is done by one of the perpetrators spreading the pesos in his palm to cover his fingers that are folding a portion of the bunch. The suspect distracts the attention of the victim, often by telling him to be extra careful of robbers, while wrapping the bundle of money in a newspaper or placing it inside a paper bag. The victim eventually discovers that he was shortchanged when he counts the money while inside a car or upon arrival at his house or hotel.
Laslas Bag/Laslas Bulsa Gang
Where they operate: malls, open-air markets, and public transportation perpetrators of this crime usually target victims in crowded areas.
A man/woman/child pretending to be lost or selling an item approaches the victim to distract his/her attention. An accomplice slashes the bag/pocket of the victim who is busy being distracted by another suspect. All money and goods are stolen.
Ipit Taxi Gang
Where they operate: Taxis
The Ipit Taxi scheme usually involves three (3) perpetrators. The trio uses a taxi cab spray painted with a different name and sporting stolen or fake license plates. The driver usually drives around looking for a potential victim who is hailing a taxi cab. Unknown to the victim, the locking mechanisms of both rear doors are not working. The driver then drives the cab to a pre-arranged area, usually a dimly lit street or highway, and slows down pretending he has engine/mechanical trouble. At this juncture his cohorts approach both doors of the cab, jump in and sandwich the victim who is forcibly divested of his cash and valuables. After the victim is robbed, the driver takes the victim and dumps him in a quiet place or highway.
In another variant, the taxi driver, with the help of an illegal solicitor, will ask the victim to pay an additional amount or forcibly divest him of all cash and valuables, then the victim is dumped in a remote area.
Where they operate: Public transportation
Attackers prey on passengers inside a bus or jeepney by positioning themselves near the estribo or vehicle’s exit and then hold up everyone inside. In other instances, a crafty criminal will set up at the exit of a crowded bus or jeepney and systematically pick the pocket of passengers passing through.
Bukas Kotse Gang
Where they operate: main roads under heavy traffic, parking areas in malls, churches, schools, etc.
Thieves typically work in pairs. Spotting a potential victim driving a car with unlocked doors, a pair will force their way into an occupied parked car or a vehicle stopped at an intersection. Other times, using a car of their own, the pair will force the victim to maneuver his or her vehicle off the road. One of the attackers will force the victim to open his door. The attacker pushes the victim to the front passenger seat, drives the car to a deserted area, and robs the victim. Sometimes, the attackers also steal the car.
Where they operate: public transportation terminals, jeepneys, and buses
This tactic is usually carried out by a group of three. The first member informs the victim that a man/woman has spit on her sleeve and back. The victim will be distracted trying to wipe the spit on her sleeve while one of the other members of the gang steals the victim’s valuables, usually a wallet or a mobile phone.
Where they operate: Residential areas
The Akyat-Bahay is the most common robbery scheme in the Philippines. This crime is usually orchestrated by three to five people. These thieves target homes that are unoccupied especially during the holiday season (i.e. Christmas, Holy Week, and Summer Vacation) or during severe weather conditions (i.e. typhoons) when members of the household can barely notice break-ins into their homes. The gang also employs children who can easily enter homes illegally through tight spaces.
Where they operate: Provincial and city operation buses, jeepneys, motorized passenger sidecars (tricycles), and schools
Thieves typically target passengers seated near the windows of public buses, jeepneys, and tricycles. Among the items usually snatched by thieves include wrist watches, rings, necklaces, mobile phones, and hand bags.
Another variant occurs when a group of thieves grab the ears of women and young girls and steal their earrings or snatch their bracelets from their wrists.
Where they operate: Provincial/city operation buses.
This scheme is usually executed by three members. One of the perpetrators wears a bus conductor’s uniform and ask their potential victim “ilan ho” or “how many?” The unsuspecting victim assumes that the man is the bus conductor and responds with the amount of fare the victim should pay. The criminal then forcibly hands the victim a Zest-O juice or any food item and demands that the victim pay for the item. The two accomplices will vouch that the victim ordered from the vendor. The victim will then be forced to pay up.
Where they operate: Provincial/city operation buses, jeepneys, railway stations
Members of this gang drop coins or small bills near their victim. While the victim helps to scoop up the money, other gang members start robbing the victim. In most instances, a gang member blends with the crowd and serves as lookout or “stopper,” when someone tries to run after his companions.
Where they operate: Restaurants, shopping malls, department stores, supermarkets
Members of this gang are typically waiters and cashiers who target credit card users in business establishments. Once the victim gives his credit card to the waiter/shop attendant the card is swiped to a skimming device that will capture the victim’s credit card account.
Where they operate: Bargain malls and open-air markets
This gang targets shoppers who check out items sold in stalls (i.e. watches, jewelry, mobile phones, and other electronic gadgets). One of the gang members stands next to the victim and borrows the item being checked, pretending that he/she is a friend of the victim. The thief will quickly flee the stall premises bringing with him/her the said item. The store owner/attendant naturally assumes that the victim is an accomplice and will ask him/her to pay for the item.
Dugo Dugo Gang
My own family has had an encounter with the group called Dugo-dugo gang twice already and luckily for us, their scheme was foiled each time. This group makes a phone call to a house at a time when the homeowners are not home. When the household help answers, they pretend to be the owner and concocts a story about having been in a serious vehicular accident and being treated in a hospital. They then instruct the maid to gather whatever valuable possessions are in the master’s bedroom (cash, jewelry and the like) and meet with the gang’s representative so that the hospital bill could be paid. The house maid usually obeys the gang member’s instructions out of a sense of duty to her perceived employers. The gang member runs away with the valuables as soon as these are handed over to him/her.
The maid is oftentimes too overwhelmed by the whole incident to even think of verifying the identity of the caller. At times, the perpetrator will even offer the explanation that his/her voice may sound different as he/she is in so much pain or some other reason.
A variation of the concocted story is the employer gets into an accident where someone else (usually a child or elderly person) gets seriously hurt and is brought by the maid’s employer to the hospital.
This post is not meant to instill fear or cynicism in us. Being armed with such knowledge can only make us wiser in the way we interact with strangers.
This way, my hope is that we will be better able to enjoy our recreation time with our families while keeping ourselves away from the clutches of these criminal elements.
Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) is an international criminal gang that originated in Los Angeles, California. It has spread to other parts of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Central America. The majority of the gang is ethnically composed of Central Americans (mostly Salvadorans) and active in urban and suburban areas.
In the U.S., the MS-13 has an especially heavy presence in Los Angeles County and the San Francisco Bay Area in Northern California; the Washington, D.C. metropolitan areas of Fairfax County, Virginia, Montgomery County, Maryland, and Prince George’s County, Maryland; Queens, New York; Long Island, New York; Newark, New Jersey, Plainfield, New Jersey; Jersey City, New Jersey; Elizabeth, New Jersey; the Boston, Massachusetts area; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Houston, Texas. There is also a presence of MS-13 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Members of MS distinguish themselves by tattoos covering the body and also often the face, as well as the use of their own sign language. They are notorious for their use of violence and a subcultural moral code that predominantly consists of merciless revenge and cruel retributions. This cruelty of the distinguished members of the “Maras” or “Mareros” earned them a path to be recruited by the Sinaloa Cartel battling against Los Zetas in an ongoing drug war south of the United States border.   Their wide-ranging activities have drawn the attention of the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who have initiated wide-scale raids against known and suspected gang members – netting hundreds of arrests across the country
The Mexican Mafia (Spanish: Mafia Mexicana), also known as La eMe (Spanish for “the M”), is a highly organized Mexican American criminal organization in the United States. Despite its name, the Mexican Mafia did not originate in Mexico and is entirely a U.S. criminal prison organization. Sureños, including MS-13 and Florencia 13, use the number 13 to show allegiance to the Mexican Mafia.
M is the 13th letter of the alphabet. Law enforcement officials report that La eMe is the most powerful gang within the California prison system. Government officials state that there are currently 155–300 official members of the Mexican Mafia with around 990 associates who assist La eMe in carrying out its illegal activities in the hopes of becoming full members.[
Many Sureño gangs have rivalries with one another and the only time this rivalry is set aside is when they enter the prison system. Thus, fighting is common among different Sureño gangs even though they share the same common identity. Sureños have emerged as a national gang in the United States.
The Sinaloa Cartel (Spanish: Cártel de Sinaloa or CDS) is an international drug trafficking, money laundering, and organized crime syndicate. Established during the mid-1980s, the Sinaloa Cartel is based primarily in the city of Culiacán, Sinaloa, with operations in the Mexican states of Baja California, Durango, Sonora, and Chihuahua. The cartel is also known as the Guzmán-Loera Organization and the Pacific Cartel, the latter due to the coast of Mexico from which it originated. The cartel has also been called the Federation and the Blood Alliance. The ‘Federation’ was partially splintered when the Beltrán-Leyva brothers broke apart from the Sinaloa Cartel.
The United States Intelligence Community considers the Sinaloa Cartel “the most powerful drug trafficking organization in the world” and in 2011, the Los Angeles Times called it “Mexico’s most powerful organized crime group.” The Sinaloa Cartel is associated with the label “Golden Triangle”, which refers to the states of Sinaloa, Durango, and Chihuahua. The region is a major producer of Mexican opium and marijuana. According to the U.S. Attorney General, the Sinaloa Cartel is responsible for importing into the United States and distributing nearly 200 tons of cocaine and large amounts of heroin between 1990 and 2008. According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, within the U.S. the Sinaloa Cartel is primarily involved in the distribution of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, marijuana and MDMA.
As of 2015, the Sinaloa Cartel is the most active drug cartel involved in smuggling illicit drugs into the United States and trafficking them throughout the United States.[2