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‘They can clean you completely out’: Seniors being defrauded using distraction technique

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‘They can clean you completely out’: Seniors being defrauded using distraction technique
A Calgary area senior is speaking out and warning others to be vigilant following a recent string of distraction thefts. Investigators believe suspects are working in tandem to steal financial information by targeting vulnerable victims shopping at major retail chains. Carolyn Kury de Castillo has the story of one elderly woman who has come forward after being defrauded more than $21,000 – Feb 19, 2023

A Calgary area senior is warning others to be on a look out for thieves using distraction techniques to steal credit cards.

Calgary police investigators are working to identify the suspects connected to the 12 distraction theft cases reported between late January and early February of this year.

Diane Maull has been through so much this new year already: Her husband passed away on January 25, and, less than a week later, she was the victim of theft.

Maull was shopping at South Trail Crossing on Jan. 31. At around 3:45p.m., as she was headed to her vehicle, a man offered to help her because of the messy road conditions.

After helping Maull put her bags inside, the man said she had a loose tire valve cap.

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“I said, ‘It looks OK to me,’ and I pressed and the air came out. I said ‘give me the top.’ I said I am a farm girl. There’s nothing wrong with that,” said the affable 80-year-old.

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That’s when she thinks a thief took her debit and credit cards from her open purse — while the first man was distracting her.

“I always seemed to have him in my sight when he was doing that, but of course you’re not observing, and apparently there was more than one. It was a combination of A helping B helping C,” Maull said.

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According to police, two days later Maull found out she had been defrauded more than $21,000 through cash withdraws and transactions.

From late January to early February, 12 distraction theft cases with a many similarities have been reported to Calgary police.

Police think up to four suspects are working in together to steal financial information by targeting people at major retail chains.

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In each case, the victims made a purchase using their debit or credit card and were approached by a man while trying to leave the store or in the parking lot.

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The scam starts with a suspect observing victims as they enter their PIN. That person then signals to another suspect that the PIN has been obtained and to go ahead with a distraction tactic that allows them to steal the victim’s credit cards.

“It can happen at any time of the year. In this circumstance, they’re picking the busier days to do this, so they’re not noticed in the store — so it’s not easy to be identified,” said Const. Shaun Vandal with the Calgary Police Service.

“Everybody has to be very mindful of hanging on to everything and being very observant- and by the way, I hope people don’t stop helping little old ladies across the street,” said Maull with a laugh.

Click to play video: 'Avoiding falling victim to scams'
Avoiding falling victim to scams

Maull says she’ll probably get the bank account money back in a month. The cash she lost, maybe not.

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“I have home insurance but the deductible is a $1,000 so I’m afraid my dog is not going to have a haircut for a while, and things like that. It’s rampant apparently, and I really hope that people will observe — not only for yourself, but observe for other people,” Maull said.

“We are asking Calgarians to be mindful of this scam and their surroundings while shopping. If you encounter someone who is in extremely close proximity to you, proceed to a safe place and report the incident to store staff or police,” Vandal said.

Maull said she’s thankful for the help from the Calgary Police Service and in particular one member who managed to cheer her up.  Spending her first Valentine’s Day without her husband and the trauma of the theft had taken their toll.

“There was a considerable time that I was feeling blue and Constable Vandal said, ‘You haven’t got your last box of chocolates yet,’ and he gave me a beautiful box of red chocolates,” Maull said with a smile.

She’s also warning people to be prepared if they are the victim of this type of theft.

“It has told me one thing — whatever you do make sure you have two bank accounts because if you don’t, what would you do for just about two weeks with no money? Because they can clean you completely out.”

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