Thieves in the Venezuelan coastal city of Maracaibo are assaulting women at an increasing rate, but not for their handbags or jewelry. The criminals, called piranhas, grab women and cut off chunks of their hair. Locals tell CNN that the piranhas then sell the stolen hair to beauty salons, where natural hair can go for more than $500 to be used in hair extensions.
The thievery appears to be organized by a local gang, which holds women at gunpoint and forcies them to tie their hair into ponytails so that the gang members can more easily cut off their locks. Demand for extensions in Venezuela is high, and one stylist there says that sales have increased by 30 percent since the first hair-snatching incidents were reported.
One woman, Mariana Rodriguez, told CNN about her assault: “I thought they were going to steal my cell phone, because I had it in my hand at the time, but they took out scissors,” she said. “They did not give me a chance to think or to run or anything. And when I looked, I no longer had any hair.”
Venezuelan police are beginning to step up patrols in response to the reports, but the authorities have yet to receive any formal complaints. Maracaibo, the second largest city in Venezuela, already struggles to control high rates of drug-trafficking and crime.