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Cape Town -

Robbers are targeting MTN stores around the country and the situation has escalated so much in the Western Cape that the mobile operator says it is setting up a team with the police to address the problem.

The crimes, which generally involve a syndicate consisting of six or seven robbers who split up and rob the store while others keep watch and man a getaway vehicle, have resulted in scores of cellphones and laptops being stolen.

On Wednesday, an MTN employee, who declined to be identified, told the Cape Times the stores were being targeted because MTN cellphones could easily be used outside of the country, while other service providers’ cellphones were locked in a manner making them difficult to use abroad.

The employee said he and his colleagues feared being hit next.

A number of MTN stores around Cape Town have been targeted, including branches in Durbanville, Rondebosch, Somerset West, Steenberg, Paarl, Kuils River, Kraaifontein and Observatory.

A few days ago, two stores were robbed within hours in East London.

On Thursday, Lily Zondo, MTN SA’s general manager of business risk management, said: “MTN has been concerned about these robberies for a considerable time.”

She said MTN was working closely with the police, Hawks and other mobile operators to curb the crimes.

“Robbers seems to be targeting handsets and cash in these incidents. MTN cannot speculate if these robberies are part of a syndicate, but can’t discredit the possibility,” Zondo said.

She said nine suspected armed robbers had been arrested in the Western Cape and 42 in Gauteng, where MTN had collaborated with the Hawks.

“MTN is in the processes of putting in place a working committee with the provisional police commissioner to address the increase of incidents in the Western Cape and has taken steps to make the store environment safer,” Zondo said.

Zondo said MTN had offered counselling to staff and customers who were in a store during a robbery.

Security measures, including redesigning store layouts and CCTV coverage upgrades, were being undertaken.

Two MTN stores were robbed in East London early on Tuesday.

Dean Deary, general manager of Hemingways Mall in East London, said a group of seven had gone from one mall to another.

He said they had managed to get into Hemingways Mall at around 6am and had apparently used a rock to break into the MTN store.

They stole dummy cellphones and tried to steal a laptop mounted to a shelf.

After breaking the shelf, Deary said they had abandoned trying to get the laptop and left.

There were jewellers on either side of the MTN store and the robbers had ignored these.

The incident took three to four minutes.

Deary said the group then jumped into a waiting car and drove to the Vincent Park Mall.

Joseph Parsley, centre manager for the Vincent Park Mall, said the group had followed the same modus operandi as at Hemingways Mall – they used a rock to break into the MTN store.

“They specifically targeted the MTN store,” he said.

Parsley said the group had stolen cellphones and laptops.

In one of the latest incidents in the Western Cape, an MTN store in a mall in Kuils River was robbed on April 7.

Karla Perks, the mall’s centre manager, said, “(The) mall has unfortunately been subjected to cellphone shop robbery syndicates, which are currently a problem in many shopping centres in the province.

“The SAPS advised that these criminals are seemingly approaching stores with no intent to harm but rather to rob the stores of its stock and leave.

The SAPS have advised that they have assigned a task team who are focusing on this matter in the province.”

The Fidelity Security Group issued information on the modus operandi of cellphone store robbers.

It said stores usually got robbed 20 minutes to an hour after new stock was delivered.

Syndicates usually consisted of six or seven members, four of whom would enter a store and force customers and staff into back areas, while two would act as spotters. One would remain in an idling vehicle near the mall entrance.

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Cape Times