A public awareness campaign has been launched in Vancouver to warn the public about distraction thefts.
Such thefts involve a suspect or suspects approaching someone on the street, then using distraction techniques to steal their jewelry or other valuables.
Billboards in four languages — English, Chinese, Punjabi and Tagalog — are going up around the city to warn people of the danger and tell them how to protect themselves. The English-language poster reads: “Be cautious of strangers getting close or asking for help.”
The cost of the billboards is being covered by Metro Vancouver Crime Stoppers and the Vancouver Police Foundation.
Simi Heer with the Vancouver Police Department said there tends to be a spike in the number of distraction theft cases during the summer, adding that thieves often target seniors or visible minorities, particularly people who are East Asian or South Asian.
“The people who are targeted are often out doing everyday things like gardening or going for a walk or walking their dog and this crime is difficult for police to investigate because once the victim fully realizes what has happened, the suspects are often long gone,” she said.
Heer gave two examples of scenarios where distraction thefts occur.
“In one scenario, thieves attempt to overwhelm their victims with loud and enthusiastic talking and then use sleight-of-hand techniques to remove authentic jewelry and replace it with fake items,” she said.
“In another scenario, suspects ask the victim for help and say they are in desperate need of money and they offer to sell their own jewelry to the victim and escort them to the bank to get hundreds of dollars to buy that jewelry. Once the thieves are gone, the victims end up with fake jewelry and they’re out hundreds of dollars.”
Heer said 54 distraction thefts have been reported to police this year, already surpassing last year’s total of 52.