Head cases: Dreadlock theft on the rise in South Africa

Thieves in South Africa have taken to snipping off unsuspecting peoples' dreadlocks, lured by a rich demand and steep rewards.

In South Africa, it might not be theft of your wallet you should dread.

According to the Johannesburg Times Live, South Africans and visitors to the capital who sport dreadlocks would be wise to guard their manes, as thieves have been chopping off the dreads of unsuspecting people and selling them on the black market for as much as $300 for a long set.

Last year in Durban, the country's third largest city, police reported only one such incident, but stylists say the surreptitious snippings are becoming frighteningly commonplace. One reason for the underreporting, a Johannesburg police spokesperson said, is that many victims are too embarrassed to report the theft of their hair.

Faced with a rising demand for natural human hair dreadlock extensions, many salons ask no questions about where the locks come from.

"They are becoming very popular. On a busy day we get about 10 people [wanting] to extend their hair," John Wushe, a South African hair stylist, told the Times Live.

Hairdressers weave the locks in individually or sew them together using a needle and thread. The process, which takes about two hours, can cost as much as $170 if the dreads are long and thick, the Times Live says.

Zimbabwean Mutsa Madonko was one such victim of hair theft. On vacation in Johannesburg, he had been partying at a local nightclub when he passed out briefly, according to the Times Live. Minutes later, when friends found him, Madonko was missing the dreadlocks that had taken him 10 years to grow. Thieves had chopped off his locks – but left him his wallet and cellphone.

Bandits are so drawn to the natural dreads, they'd ignore loose cash to obtain them, says Lebo Masimong, a stylist in Randburg. She also said women are the more vulnerable.

"You are an easy target if you walk around ... and your hair is loose," she said. "They don't care about your money or fancy phone. They are only after your hair."

High-priced hair theft isn’t limited to Africa. The United States has experienced a spate of hair salon robberies in the last few years. In 2012, in a crime reminiscent of "Mission: Impossible," thieves busted through a Chicago beauty salon wall, crawled on the floor to avoid motion detectors and stole $230,000 worth of natural hair extensions, ABC reports. In previous years, according to The New York Times, bandits made off with $150,000 and $85,000, respectively, in two separate hair salon robberies in Texas.

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