The scene is all too familiar; the waving of a pocket-watch back and forth, followed by the mumblings of ‘Yes, Master!’ While it was popularized by Hollywood and comic books, this representation bears little resemblance to actual hypnotism as performed by today’s practitioners. The use of hypnotism was mainly for good purposes such as to quit smoking, curb depression, stress management, motivating and improving self confidence. However, modern-day criminals rely too on hypnotism as an alternative to guns and knives to rob their victims. This had led to the misconception of the general public often linking hypnotism with robbery, cheating, rape and other crimes.
For this article, I consulted my cousin, Joyce, a hypnotherapist by profession (not the criminal kind). She mentioned that some perpetrators bump into you to give you the ‘shock’ (that’s when your level of alertness freezes for a while). They then apologize and you suddenly develop trust in them…Don’t! Just walk away. If they do try to engage in conversation, answer their question with another question, this would ‘shock’ them, hence breaking their train of concentration. Joyce further added that we should avoid eye contact and divert our attention elsewhere; look at their forehead (or if it’s a beautiful lady, focus your eyes on other parts instead). Some perpetrators use the element of smell, using special scents to make their victims more attracted to them.
Throughout the archipelago, the local newspapers regularly carry reports of hypnotism crimes taking place at convenience stores, banks, jewellery stores, antique shops and even bus stops. A peek at CCTV footage often shows the victim in a daze and willingly giving away their valuables to the perpetrators. If you’re ‘lucky’, you lose a watch or your iPhone, but there have been cases of victims losing their entire life savings.
Experts say that the the key is for criminals to distract their victim’s thoughts so they lose control of everything, making them “voluntarily” and willing to do everything asked by the criminals. Police believe many cases remain unsolved and unreported, as many victims were either ashamed to acknowledge that they were conned or they just simply couldn’t recount the ordeal.
Here’s my story of my ex-driver, David. He was a trusted employee of the company and was frequently requested to run errands including depositing cash at the bank; an errand he had completed without fail over the years. As our trust in him grew, so did the monetary amount.
One fateful day, he was briefed by the secretary on his list of errands and pit-stops for the day, of which, one was to make a cash deposit at the bank. He left at 10am and never returned. Calls to his mobile phone were futile. We made a trip to the bank and other places that he was supposed to go to but no one recalled seeing him Countless text messages and calls later, we assumed the worst. Was he abducted? Murdered?
That night, we headed to David’s house to break the bad news to his family. David’s wife and two children broke down in tears and their cries echoed throughout the narrow alleys of their housing complex, resulting in caring neighbours coming over to console them.
The next morning, the office was abuzz with speculation about what had happened to our dear colleague. And then the phone rang, it was David sounding somewhat frightened and shaken. He told us that he was at a convenience store about 80km away and asked for us to pick him up.
David appeared dazed and stuttered while recounting his ordeal. He told us that he was approached by a man outside the bank. He only vividly remembers the man calling him by his name and after that everything was a blur. Next thing he knows, he woke up the next morning at a back alley in Bogor. Everything was gone: his motorcycle, wallet, mobile phone and wedding ring.
We headed to the police station to file a police report, the officer on duty wasn’t buying the story that David was hypnotized and insisted that David had made it up to pocket the money. We were told to wait outside while several officers interrogated David. He was later released due lack of evidence.
David never showed up for work the next day and was never seen again (at least not by us at the office). We initially thought that was because he needed a day or two to recover from the trauma, however, when we tried to visit him, we were told by his neighbours that he had moved without commenting further. His disappearance brought about doubt – had he already planned to abscond with the money? After all it was June 2010, right smack in the middle of the World Cup. Was it gambling debts or just pure temptation waiting for the right time and amount? My guess is as good as yours. Two years on, I still hope to bump into him someday and ask him.