Distraction Robberies Target Seniors At Banks

By Sara Faruqi, Toronto Police Service Published: 4:24 p.m. May 22, 2015

Three men have been arrested for distraction robberies in Toronto, using mustard as a guise to distract elderly people leaving financial institutions, and robbing them of cash they have just withdrawn.

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

The men, visitors from Chile, are alleged to have committed similar crimes for the last four months, according to Detective Ken Lee from  42 Division’s Major Crime Unit. 

“We believe they came to Canada for the sole purpose of robbing elderly citizens of Toronto,” said Lee, who was conducting investigations into violent robberies when the men were arrested. The men are in their mid-to-late 60s. 

According to the detective, officers, including himself, noticed two elderly men loitering in a bank observing people taking out cash. The men were then seen spraying mustard on the back of a man’s jacket and then approaching the man to help clean the mustard off. This modus operandi was used by the three men in several instances to rob people off the cash they had just withdrawn, said Lee.

One man sprays mustard on the back of an unsuspecting victim, a second man makes the victim aware of the  mustard and offers to clean it, while a third plucks the envelope of cash from their jacket or their purse, explained Lee. 

While the majority of the robberies were not violent, one case involved pushing a victim. 

On a typical day, Lee alleged the men left at nine in the morning in a rented car to go “across the city from bank to bank” till four in the afternoon, searching for opportunities.

Detectives were able to charge the men with 12 such robberies in Toronto, although they believe there may be more victims. Lee said the three men have stolen close to $28,000 in the last four months. 

“It’s like a job. They operate six hours a day, five days a week,” said Lee. “This is organized crime and they are coming into the country to commit it,” said Lee. 

Distraction thefts and crimes can occur in a variety of ways, said Lee, from flat tires on cars to some dirt or garbage strewn on cars to distract victims so their belongings can be stolen. 

“Be aware of your surroundings and be wary of strangers coming up to you and trying to help you where you don’t think you need help,” said Lee, noting that elderly and vulnerable people should be especially vigilant.

Last year, 41 Division and Crime Stoppers teamed up to create a video warning people, especially seniors, about a spike in distraction thefts.

Crime Stoppers video describes distraction thefts In Toronto

The suspects had been visiting busy areas, such as shopping malls, in a vehicle and usually one or two women will select, and approach, a victim while a man remains in a  vehicle nearby. 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, placing the fake gold items on victims as they remove more valuable jewelry. Seniors have had precious items, such as wedding bands stolen.

The three men in the most recent case have also used five-dollar bills thrown onto the street to distract victims, allowing them to collect the money while one of them steals money from them, said Lee.  

Jointly, the men have been charged with 12 counts of robbery by Toronto Police, two counts by York Regional Police and one count by Peel Regional Police – totalling 45 counts all together so far. 

Victims are being urged to come forward by police.

Juan Jamie Loaiza Eguren, 67; Carlos Embry Ibarra, 64 and Angel Moforte Mardones, 69, all of Chile, have also been charged with mischief and theft over. 

Anyone with information is asked to contact police at 416-808-4204, Crime Stoppers anonymously at 416-222-TIPS (8477), online at  222tips.com, text TOR and your message to CRIMES (274637). Download the free Crime Stoppers Mobile App on iTunes, Google Play or Blackberry App World.

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