Hair theft is a rising crime in Venezuela

Thieves in Venezuela have begun stealing hair -- which can be sold for around $80 on the black market -- as a new form of income, highlighting the extent of the rampant insecurity affecting the country.

Scissors-wielding assailants in Venezuela's northwest Zulia department have been trapping women in public places, including in shopping centers, and cutting off their hair, which can then be sold to salons for up to 3,000 bolivares ($476 at official rates or $80 on the black market), reported El Nuevo Herald. In Maracaibo, the department capital, the crime has become such a problem that police have begun a special operation aimed at catching hair thieves.

According to Semana, the crime is performed by gangs of thieves, including a group of women called the "Piranhas," who operate in the center of Maracaibo. Officials said that women had reported being held at gun point and forced to put their hair in a ponytail so it would be easier to cut off.

The stolen hair is sold to salons for wigs and for increasingly popular hair extensions.

InSight Crime Analysis

Though the crime seems slightly absurd, it is in effect a reflection of the extremely poor security situation the country is facing. The fact that thieves can trap and rob a woman in a commercial center without fear of retribution, let alone steal her hair, paints a picture of a country where illegality reigns. The crime is also clearly profitable, bringing in comparable profits to stolen cell phones, and victims can be easily chosen based on physical characteristics.

Venezuela saw a record daily average of homicides for the first four months of 2013, and Maracaibo was placed on a list of the world's 50 most dangerous cities this year. Crime is facilitated in great part by high levels of corruption in the police and security forces, and a justice system that has been rated among the worst in the world. Although the issue is now high on the agenda for the new government of Nicolas Maduro, which has introduced some measures to reign in violent crime, government legitimacy in the fight is reduced by the fact that it covers up unfavorable crime statistics.

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The prison system in Latin America and the Caribbean has become a prime incubator for organized crime. This overview -- the first of six reports on prison systems that we produced after a year-long investigation -- traces the origins and maps the consequences of the problem, including...

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

Local police and justice officials are convinced that the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) has strengthened its presence along the East Coast of the United States. The alarm follows a recent spate of violence -- of the type not seen in a decade -- which included dismembered bodies and...

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

José Adán Salazar Umaña is the only Salvadoran citizen currently on the US government's Kingpin List. But in his defense, Salazar Umaña claims is he is an honorable businessman who started his career by exchanging money along the borders between Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. He does...

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

In July 2011, members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) attended a meeting organized in California by a criminal known as "Bad Boy." Among the invitees was José Juan Rodríguez Juárez, known as "Dreamer," who had gone to the meeting hoping to better understand what was beginning to...

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

Throughout the continent, the debate on whether or not the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang is working with or for drug traffickers continues. In this investigation, journalist Carlos García tells the story of how a member of the MS13 entered the methamphetamine distribution business under the powerful auspices...

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

In San Pedro Sula's jailhouse, chaos reigns. The inmates, trapped in their collective misery, battle for control over every inch of their tight quarters. Farm animals and guard dogs roam free and feed off scraps, which can include a human heart. Every day is visitors' day, and...

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces...

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador's prison system is the headquarters of the country's largest gangs. It is also where one of these gangs, the MS13, is fighting amongst itself for control of the organization.

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

Special Agent David LeValley headed the criminal division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Washington office until last November 8. While in office, he witnessed the rise of the MS13, the Barrio 18 (18th Street) and other smaller gangs in the District of Columbia as well...

The Fixer and El Salvador's Missed Opportunity

The Fixer and El Salvador's Missed Opportunity

In the photograph, they are both smiling. In the foreground, on the left hand side, a man in a short-sleeved buttoned white shirt, jeans and a metal watch, holds a bottle of water in his right hand. He laughs heartily. He is Herbert Saca. On the right...