Thieves struck more than 200 times
Sly street thieves struck more than 200 times across the West Midlands during 2013 using an array of ‘sleight of hand’ tactics to swipe purses, phones and bank cards.
Favourite cons used by brazen tricksters include nimble-fingered jewellery swaps stealing necklaces and leaving victims wearing cheap imitations and warmly hugging targets as a distraction technique whilst they dip into bags or pockets.
A total of 225 people reported being targeted by thieves using distraction scams like these most in the street, in shops or at bus stops but police believe there could be many more victims who perhaps don’t realise they’ve been swindled.
West Midlands Police has issued a Top 5 list of new tricks being adopted by pickpockets in the hope members of the public can help protect themselves against street scammers.
Chief Inspector Jane Parry said: “These are calculated groups of thieves targeting the most vulnerable members of society, usually the elderly or people with mobility difficulties. From most reports we’ve received, offenders attempt to engage victims in conversation though they only speak limited or broken English.
“They are using an ever expanding array of tactics to try and distract victims and give them an opportunity to pinch purses, phones or jewellery.
“One we’re seeing more of is a ‘hugging’ tactic that tends to involve thieves asking for directions and then warmly embracing their victim seemingly as a thank-you for helping but what they’re actually doing is slyly reaching into bags or pockets.
“Another sees the offenders dropping cash on the floor, asking the
victim if they’ve dropped money and then pouncing when they take their purse out to check.
“Our advice is to always be wary of strangers approaching you in the street and to keep an arm’s length between you and them. And if you believe you may have been a victim then call police immediately on 999.”
The Top 5 list features:
1. The Jewellery Swap a worthless piece of jewellery is placed around the victim’s neck under the pretence of offering it for sale. When told ‘no’ the thief removes the target’s necklace and leaves them with the fake.
2. The Money Drop the thief drops a £5, £10 or £20 on the floor near their target and asks if they’ve dropped it. When they take out their purse or wallet to see if money is missing the thief will try to discretely remove a bank card or cash. Offenders often use this tactic after following victims from an ATM or till where they will have noted their PIN number.
3. The Fake Hug the thieves approach their victim, often in a panicked state, asking for directions…often to a hospital where they claim a relative has been taken. On being given directions they move to hug the Good Samaritan, using their body as a shield to dip into bags or pockets.
4. The Supermarket Purse Sweep offenders ask a shopper to reach an item from the shelf, claiming they’ve suffered an injury, can’t bend down, are carrying a baby, or have their hands full. But when their back is turned they pounce to steal bags or purses.
5. The ATM Scam thieves loiter near ATM machines and then move in when their target removes a purse or wallet. A common tactic is trying to place a piece of paper over the screen claiming it’s out of order and in the commotion the bank customer later finds cash or cards have been taken.
Chief Insp Parry added: “The thieves can work in pairs or organised groups with one distracting the victim whilst another steals and these are particularly callous offences because the average age of victims is 67, with the oldest being 92.
“Offences have been committed across the region but concentrated in central and east Birmingham, plus Coventry in the morning or afternoon and often in busy places. They are not forcibly snatching valuables, no violence is used, but rather they use deception and trickery to steal.
“We’ve made several significant arrests, charged people with theft and attempted theft, and are gathering an improved intelligence picture on likely suspects.
“However, there always likely to be opportunists out there looking to take advantage so we’re urging members of the public to be alert to the tactics they use and report any suspicious activity to the police.”
Anyone targeted by thieves or anyone who’s witnessed a theft should call police immediately.