St. Albert RCMP warn of distraction thefts

by Morinville News Staff

St. Albert RCMP are warning residents about a rise in distraction thefts in the city over the past few months. Police say suspects seen on surveillance video in St. Albert are the same suspects that law enforcement are seeking to locate in Ontario regarding distraction thefts.

Distraction thieves tend to target seniors, vulnerable persons, or women shopping alone.They
target commercial locations, including grocery store parking lots, Walmart parking lots, and Mall parking lots. They drive high-end vehicles, either registered to themselves with Ontario license plates or newer model rental vehicles.

Suspects use a variety of techniques when approaching victims: selling gold or jewellery in a parking lot claiming it is real, flagging people down on busy roadways claiming they ran out of gas and would like to trade or exchange gold for money they will use for gas. They also shoulder surf by standing closely behind a person in a checkout line to see the person’s credit or debit card PIN when they are paying for their purchases.

“Citizens need to protect themselves from distraction thefts by being cautious and vigilant of their surroundings in stores/parking lots and individuals need to shield their PINS when making purchases or withdrawing money,” said St. Albert RCMP Detachment Commander, Inspector Pam Robinson.

Police say the suspects then distract the customer by dropping money on the ground and claiming it belongs to the victim. The suspects try to get the victim to open their wallet and when they do, the suspects distract the victim through conversation and use slight of hand tactics to steal the victim’s credit or debit cards.

These suspects will also stand closely behind someone at a checkout line, get the victim’s PIN number, and then follow the victim outside engaging the victim in conversation, distracting them by talking quickly in a foreign language, asking for help/directions, or claiming the victim has a problem.

Once distracted, the suspects use slight of hand tactics to steal the victim’s wallet/purse.
The suspects will approach vehicles in parking lots and ask the driver for directions to the nearest hospital, doctor’s office, or other location. The suspects will speak quietly to get close to the driver and then use slight of hand tactics to remove jewellery from the driver without them noticing.

Suspects have also approached victims and attempted to give them jewellery as a gift or the suspect will offer it for sale at a reduced price, claiming they need the funds for a funeral or a trip back to their home country. The suspect then places the fake gold jewellery on the victim, makes overt physical contact (embracing the victim, touches their hands, kisses their faces) all while removing or switching out the victim’s own jewellery without their knowledge. This all happens within seconds. Force has been used in some cases (not in St. Albert) but not a common practice.

The victim’s stolen cards are immediately used by the suspects at various stores, maxing out limits and clearing out bank accounts. Many victims do not realize they are victims of theft until they try to use their bank/credit cards at a later time.

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