P2P Pick Pocket

DC Flash Rob (Theft)

A 30 second sample from store security video footage from a DC retailer shows the swarm move in, "shop", and run.

Coming to an ATM near you, it’s the latest social networking phenomena, the Flash Rob.

Back when the first Flash Mob suddenly appeared literally out of nowhere, it initially seemed to hold an intriguing new potential to mobilize groups of strangers to gather to an anonymous call to arms. However, like all novel ideas without much substance behind them, the Flash Mob enjoyed its day in the sun—starting from the humble beginnings of mobilizing 130 people to gather at a Macy’s department store in New York City pretending to buy a rug. Flash mobs peaked in popularity with the famous London subway Flash Mob disco dance, but the end seemed nigh with the final large Flash Mob event, “Worldwide Pillow Fight Day” in 2008.

But just as you might have thought yourself safe from the no longer trendy Flash Mob, now social networking brings us the next level of connecting and mobilizing —not for “zany” purposes, but in this case with criminal intent: young thugs gathering to perform the Flash Rob. The Flash Rob holds some similarities to the Flash Mob as people are organized via the Internet to meet at a place where people might usually shop, but in this case the intent is to use the elements of overwhelming numbers and surprise of the Mob to Flash Rob the establishment of their choice.

“The 80’s and 90’s held similar group robbing fests—in those days calling it “shopping”

Apparently, the Flash Rob isn’t entirely new as there were isolated instances of the phenomena in the city of Philadelphia in 2009 and 2010. But the summer of 2011 saw a widening spate of Flash Robberies across the United States and Canada. Like its innocuous cousin the Flash Mob, the Flash Rob starts out with a group of people who have been organized to gather in a store. But rather than performing a goofy dance, or having a giant pillow fight, these mobs suddenly take over the store, causing instant mayhem and upheaval as the store’s former peaceful customers suddenly turn into an unstoppable mob of robbers, grabbing everything they can before departing. Police have warned retailers across the country to beware of this phenomena, but so far, it appears to be confined to a few urban centers in the U.S. and Canada.

The Flash Rob is hardly an event predicated on New Media. Similar criminal social phenomena from the past before the Internet or smart phones were invented are common, such as when teens in urban centers in the 80’s and 90’s held similar group robbing fests—in those days calling it “shopping” (again, the shopping connection with mob behavior—a curious part of the story)—whereby a large gang would gather and attack a store or subway car, using their numbers and the element of surprise to attack and rob the helpless victims. In New York this became especially famous when one such gang attack (this time called “wilding” by those participating) led to the near death of a female victim brutally caught in the mayhem. The only difference is the lack of a wired connection to plan the attacks, but plain old word of mouth seemed to serve those pre-Internet group thugs as well as a text message or email or Web site posting. It hasn’t required any kind of social networking medium for thugs throughout the ages to use their numbers to frighten and maraud. While FlashRobs have a flashy, media-friendly ring to them, here’s to hoping their thus-far limited popularity proves as fleeting as the Flash Mob.

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One thought on “P2P Pick Pocket

  1. I could never get down with FlashMobs, but now it seems like they’re a whole lot better than FlashRobs! Not the best use of the technology I ever read about, but I guess it was kind of inevitable…

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