Police warning after series of "distraction thefts"

(Last Updated On: February 14, 2020)

Police are advising shoppers to be extra vigilant after a series of “distraction thefts” at a number of supermarkets across Devon over the last few months. Police are investigating at least six recent incidents at supermarket car parks in Exeter and East Devon.

A number of people, mainly pensioners have been targeted by thieves who have watched them enter their pin at the till and then distracted the victim in the car park, stealing their wallet or purse. Swift purchases have been made, amounting to thousands of pounds. One man, an 87-year-old, was approached by a woman at Waitrose in Heavitree, who started making conversation while another man stole his bank cards from his wallet. Purchases of over £5000 were made in shops in Exeter city centre.

Police Constable Kat Henton, said: “It’s clear that a gang of up to three men and a female are freely targeting elderly people with little or no concern of being caught on camera.

“Both elderly men and women are being targeted and reports are becoming more prevalent.

“The group members have been described to us as being of Eastern European ethnicity and often the male party is described as having a “foreign” accent.

“These thefts revolve around people being targeted at supermarkets for their bank cards.

“Shoppers are unwittingly being observed when paying for goods at the checkout. Accomplices in the supermarket car park are then approaching the individuals, and while one distracts them, either asking for directions or engaging them in general conversation, the other offender sneaks in to the car and steals their bag or purse or pickpockets them.

“We have found that the cards are used almost immediately to purchase high value items using the PIN, or to withdraw cash.

“We are encouraging people to make sure that their PIN numbers are well hidden when inputting them at the checkout, and that personal belongings including wallets and purses are kept safe and not left unattended at any time.”

Anyone who has any information that could assist police enquiries, or anyone who has been a victim of theft, is asked to call 101 quoting CR/008855/20.

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