Seniors Warned of Distraction Thefts

By Ron Fanfair, Toronto Police Service Published: 11:54 a.m. March 4, 2014
Updated: 2:41 p.m. March 4, 2014

With a spike in distraction thefts in the city in the last few months, police are warning residents -- particularly seniors – to be aware of those who prey on trusting people.

Three women huddled together, one holds a gold chain
A still image from the reenactment of a distraction theft where two women approach a senior removing her necklace

At a media conference at police headquarters on March 3, Det. Wes Neal of  41 Division explained how these thefts unfold.

“The suspects attend busy areas, such as shopping malls, in a vehicle and usually one or two females will select and approach a victim while a male driver remains in the vehicle,” Neal said. “A distraction is used usually by asking for directions or engaging the victim in a conversation. The suspects will offer gifts of jewelry, often necklaces, rings and bracelets.

“They will continue to confuse the victim and place these fake gold items around their necks, hands or wrists, while removing the victim’s necklaces and jewelry. These criminals are highly skilled at their trade and they often commit these crimes without their target being even aware they are being victimized.”

Neal said he has seen, first-hand, the shattering effect these thefts have on victims.

“I personally have attended several of these incidents and the devastation is evident, especially when wedding rings and other irreplaceable jewelry is lost to these criminals,” he said. “We are making an appeal, today, as spring is just around the corner, meaning people will be spending more time outdoors wearing lighter clothing and making these kinds of thefts easier to commit.”

Public Safety Alert re: Distraction Thefts | @TorontoPolice News Conference

I personally have attended several of these incidents and the devastation is evident, especially when wedding rings and other irreplaceable jewelry is lost to these criminals

The Video Services Unit and Crime Stoppers Toronto have collaborated to produce a  video depicting a re-enactment of distraction thefts. It can be found on  Crime Stoppers YouTube channel.

“This will encourage people to provide any information to the police regarding persons that are involved in these types of incidents,” said Neal.

He urged anyone with a senior in their life, whether a parent or grandparent, to reach out to them and show them the reenactment. He said, if approached, seniors should speak loudly that they are not interested and that the person should get away from them, so that witnesses might intervene.

A man in a suit at a podium and another man behind him in TPS uniform
Detective Wes Neal speaks to the media as Superintendent John Tanouye looks on

Crime Stoppers program coordinator Detective Chris Scherk urged citizens to watch the video and warn relatives they can be victims.

“Your mothers and grandmothers are potential victims that don’t have to be,” he added. “Forewarned is forearmed and it’s important we get the message out. In this way, we can do a lot to prevent these kinds of crimes.”

Anyone with information is asked to contact police at 416-808-4100, Crime Stoppers anonymously at 416-222-TIPS (8477), online at  222tips.com, text TOR and your message to CRIMES (274637), or Leave A Tip on Facebook. Download the free Crime Stoppers Mobile App on iTunes, Google Play or Blackberry App World. 

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