This is an interesting look at the downstream impact of the technology-enabled cultural shift away from hard currency.
The break-in at MacLeod’s aviary is unusual for a number of reasons. Their bed and breakfast sits on a picturesque, but remote part of the wind-buffeted Lewis coastline – hardly a crime hotspot. Thefts of birds of prey, and particularly owls are also uncommon.
But it is a crime that is being seen more and more frequently, according to those within the falconry community. And there is a growing suspicion that they are being targeted for a reason – as a replacement for cash.
Globally, the number of non-cash payments are expected to reach almost 726 billion transactions by the end of the decade, an increase of 10.9% since 2015. Some countries, however, are rushing ahead in the move to electronic payments. In the UK, for example, the number of cash transactions in 2017 fell by 15% to 13.1 billion compared to the previous year, while payments using cards increased. In Japan, cash payments decreased by 8.5% in 2017 and in China mobile payments grew by a fifth in just one quarter of 2016
But as contactless credit cards, mobile phone payments and online transactions grow, the amount of cash being carried by people and kept by retailers is decreasing. For criminals, this creates a problem. Cash is the thieves’ best friend – it has instant value, can be carried easily, is relatively untraceable and can be quickly disposed of.
So with societies around the world becoming increasingly cashless, thieves are having to find alternatives to help them make a quick, illegal profit. Here we look at some of the more unusual things that criminals have had their eye on.
In Sweden, where just 2% of all transactions were made using cash last year and a fifth of people say they never withdraw money from an cash machine, there are perhaps the strongest signs that something is changing in the country’s criminal fraternity.
Four years ago there were 30 bank robberies in Sweden while in the 1990s there were around 100 a year. In 2017 there were just 11. There have been similar declines in the number of armoured-car robberies.
Meanwhile, crimes against protected species in Sweden have been steadily increasing, reaching 156 in 2016 – their highest level in nearly a decade – before a slight dip again last year.Law enforcement officials in the country say the theft of rare owl eggs and orchids are among the most common crimes against protected species.
These are then sold on the black market and smuggled around the world to countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, where owning a bird of prey is seen as a status symbol. According to Filippo Bassini, head of the police unit for species protection offences in Sweden, an adult great grey owl can fetch more than $112,000 and are often sold on through the dark net.