Crime rates rise as Covid-19 pandemic spreads

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Crime rates rise as Covid-19 pandemic spreads

As the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic continues, the number of crimes reported involving theft of food and household items or attempts to use counterfeit money have shot up.
 
A 40-year-old was caught trying to illegally enter a restaurant in Cheonan, South Chungcheong, after robbing 11 stores. Despite the crime spree, the things the man stole were only worth between 10,000 won ($8.50) and 70,000 won.
 
A 50-year-old was recently caught by the police after climbing up a utility pole to cut the wires and sell them to a junk yard.
 
The court in early August sentenced him to two and a half years in prison.
 
The judge, while noting that the recent crime was committed out of desperation, said the heavy sentence was handed down because the man had prior convictions and committed the crime when he should have been reflecting on the crimes he had committed in the past.
 
Also in August, a 70-year-old man and a 60-year-old woman were caught by police trying to steal napa cabbages from a farm in Pyeongchang, Gangwon.
 
The surge in petty crimes is clear in the quarterly crime report released by the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office.
 
The report showed that in the first quarter of this year, overall crime rose 5 percent on year to 404,534 cases.
 
By the type of crime committed, property-related crimes such as fraud and burglary rose 11.3 percent to 155,718 cases.
 
This is a rapid increase considering that violent crimes in the first quarter only grew half a percent year-on-year, while traffic-related crimes only rose 1.2 percent.
 
“Crimes related to personal property have risen sharply as people struggle from Covid-19,” said Oh Yoon-sung, a criminology professor at Soonchunhyang University.
 
On Aug. 19, the owner of a comic book cafe in Gwangju, South Jeolla, called the police after realizing that he had been given a fake 50,000 won note.
 
The counterfeit note was reported to have been made on a normal household printer.
 
Two days later, counterfeit 10,000 won notes were found at a nearby traditional market.
 
“As the economy became unstable with the spread of Covid-19, we have started to see numerous counterfeits,” said Lee Ho-jung, head of Hana Bank’s counterfeit center.
 
Lee warned traditional market store owners to look out for counterfeit notes.
 
New types of crime have also emerged, including selling fake KF94 masks.
 
Crimes committed by elderly people have risen as well.
 
According to the Korea Institute of Criminology, the number of elderly people convicted of crimes in the first quarter of this year increased 9.9 percent year-on-year to 33,245.
 
Among elderly people, 9,069 were repeat offenders. That’s one in three.
 
According to Statistics Korea, the unemployment rate of people aged between 55 and 79 in May was 3.8 percent, the highest since related data started to be compiled in 2005.
 
“The increase in repeated offenses by elderly people, who only land simple jobs that are on-and-off, is highly related to the economic stagnation,” said Park Hyung-min, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute of Criminology.
 
A police officer that requested anonymity said one unique thing about the crimes committed during the Covid-19 pandemic is that they are committed against poor people, rather than rich people.  
 
BY MOON HEE-CHUL, PARK HYUN-JOO   [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]

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