Officers from the Niagara Regional Police Service are seeing a rise in distraction thefts since late February across Niagara.
Ten incidents have been reported, police said in a news release.
While there are some minor differences in how the crimes are carried out, the general steps the distraction criminals are using are similar, police say.
First, police say multiple suspects (2 to 4) will enter larger retail stores. They wander the store until they find a victim (often a lone older female with a purse).
The victim is then followed around the store until she goes to the register to pay.
At that point, the thieves will surreptitiously position themselves near the point of sale to be able to see the victim punch in her PIN for a debit or credit card.
The victim is then followed into the parking lot to their car.
The suspects separate and positions themselves near the car.
Once the victim is seated in the car, one of the suspects approaches the car and tells the victim there is a problem that they need to see. Often the suspects will say there is a problem with the victim’s car, for example a tire low on air.
The victim will exit the car to look at the “problem” tire with aid from the “helpful” stranger.
With the victim now distracted, one of the other thieves will swoop in, enter the car from the passenger side, snatching the card, purse or wallet from within.
The thieves will leave the area and immediately and try to access and pull as much money as possible from the debit or credit card.
What can you do to protect yourself?
Police offer these safety tips:
- Always be aware and vigilant to your surroundings
- Using “tap” technology can reduce the risk of exposure to your PIN
- Take steps to protect your PIN. Stand close and cover your typing hand
- Upon entering your car, lock the doors
- If a stranger comes to the car to speak to you, remain in the car and lower a window slightly
- Consider waiting till you are alone or go to a safe location to assess the “problem” with the tire, etc.
- Trust your intuition. If it feels suspicious, it may very well be
Anyone who feels they have been a victim of a distraction theft should report it to the police. Anyone with information about suspects involved in distraction thefts can contact police at 905-688-4111.
Members of the public who wish to provide information anonymously can contact Crime Stoppers of Niagara online or by calling 1-800-222-8477. Crime Stoppers offers cash rewards to persons who contact the program with information which leads to an arrest.