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Vancouver police, partners launch new campaign targeting distraction thefts

Often the elderly or visible minorities are targetted.
Sgt. Steve Addison (at podium) discusses distraction thefts with media on July 20, 2021.

As distraction thefts increase in the city, the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) and partners are launching a new education campaign to warn people about the crime.

Last year there were reports of 52 distraction thefts. There have already been 54 reports this year.

Typically the theft is pulled off in a couple of ways.

In one scheme the thief will distract the victim with loud, enthusiastic talking. While the victim becomes overwhelmed by the conversation the thief will use sleight of hand to switch authentic jewelry the victim is wearing with cheap, fake jewelry. The thief will then leave before the victim notices what's happened.

The other con is more involved, with the thief tells the victim they're in trouble and offers to sell the victim jewelry immediately in order to get cash quickly. They'll then go with the victim to an ATM, where the victim will get cash out — often hundreds of dollars — and the sale is made. It is only later the victim finds out the jewelry is fake.

Often the thief in this case will be driving an SUV or minivan with family members (sometimes children) inside.

"The people who are targeted are out doing everyday things like gardening or going for a walk or walking their dog," says Simi Heer, the director of public affairs with the VPD.

Often the people who are targeted are elderly and a visible minority Heer says, particularly South Asian or East Asian residents of Vancouver.

"The area that's targeted the most tends to be southeast Vancouver with a few incidents on the west side and virtually no incidents in the downtown core," Heer says.

She adds that the thieves are often described as of South Asian or Middle Eastern descent.

Police find it difficult to investigate the thefts as the victim only realizes there's been a crime well after the suspect has left. They're encouraging people to call police if they see suspicious behaviour.

To help educate people about the thefts the VPD, along with the Vancouver Police Foundation and the Metro Vancouver Crime Stoppers, are placing billboards around the city, in four languages (English, Chinese, Punjabi and Tagalog), to help warn people about the crimes.

"Be cautious of strangers getting close or asking for help," states the English version.

Detectives from the major crimes unit are looking into the thefts, Heer says, as an ongoing investigation.

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