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VPD calls exponential growth of distraction scams ‘extremely concerning’

Vancouver police are encouraging residents to be vigilant following a spike in jewelry scams on the city’s east side

The Vancouver Police Department is warning Vancouver residents of a scam that has seen a 500 per cent increase since the beginning of 2021.

According to the VPD, an increase in jewelry scams is common in the spring but the issue has escalated five-fold since the beginning of the year. In a recent press release, the VPD stated there have been thirty incidents reported so far this year but there are likely dozens more that have gone unreported.

“Every spring we see an increase in these types of crimes as the days get longer and the weather improves,” said Sergeant Steve Addison, VPD spokesperson. “However, the exponential growth since January is extremely concerning.”

The scammers typically use sleight-of-hand distraction techniques to steal valuables from unsuspecting victims, or by trading fake and worthless jewelry in exchange for cash.

“These thieves succeed by overwhelming their victims with the element of surprise, or by convincing them to go against their better judgment,” adds Addison. “Usually, by the time someone realizes they’ve been tricked, the scammers are long gone. This makes catching them and charging them very difficult.”

The release shared three separate incidents of these scams which all took place in East Vancouver.

A 57-year-old man was sitting at a bus stop near Main Street and East 41st Avenue in January when he was approached by a man and woman driving a black Toyota Sienna. The couple had three young children in the car and said they were desperate for money to get back to Montreal. They convinced the unsuspecting victim to withdraw $3,000 from the bank in exchange for handfuls of fake jewelry. 

In February a 63-year-old woman was walking near Kingsway and Joyce Street when a brown sedan pulled up beside her. A woman got out of the passenger seat, approached the victim, and put a chain around her neck. The victim refused and told the woman to go away. An hour later, the victim realized her necklace was gone.

Then in March, a 56-year-old woman was walking her dog near Fraser Street and East 33rd Avenue when a woman got out of a car, approached her, and claimed the victim reminded her of her dead mother. The scammer tried to put a fake necklace around the victim’s neck, then hugged her. While doing so, the suspect removed the victim’s necklace and bracelet. 

“While the victims and locations may vary, there are three fundamental elements to these crimes that rarely change,” Addison said. “The suspects always have jewelry, they typically target elderly and unsuspecting visible minorities, and they primarily operate on the city’s east side.”

Vancouver Police remind all residents to remain vigilant, not to let people enter their personal space, and to immediately report all encounters with jewelry scammers so police can respond immediately and search the area for suspects.