It starts with the same, distinct calling card in virtually every instance.
A man and a woman in their 30s or 40s approach out of nowhere, willing to lavish complete strangers with gifts of jewelry.
The recipient of the surprise jewelry is usually older, speaks English as a second language and ends up having expensive jewelry stolen off their person within minutes.
Enter what’s known as a “distraction theft,” a type of bait-and-switch crime that Vancouver police are again warning the public about after a 77-year-old woman was preyed upon in her own backyard last week.
The incident happened around 11 a.m. on the morning of July 20 near Grandview Highway and Renfrew Street. The victim was gardening in her backyard when two suspects — a man and a woman — drove up in a dark, four-door SUV.
The female approached and repeatedly insisted that the elderly woman accept several pieces of costume jewelry. The suspect overwhelmed the woman, got in her personal space and confused her to the point of being able to steal a gold bracelet off the elderly woman’s wrist.
“This is the kind of crime that can target anybody in our community, however seniors can be particularly vulnerable to this kind of offence,” said Vancouver Police Department media relations officer Steve Addison.
The female suspect was between 35 and 45 years old, about 5’3” tall, with brown, shoulder-length hair and olive skin. She wore a dark, floral-patterned dress with sandals and bright red nail polish. The male driver appeared South Asian, with darker skin, and wore a black baseball cap and polo shirt.
The same type of M.O. has been used time and again in the last three years when these types of incidents are brought to the attention of police.
The thieves target elderly men and women who are wearing visible jewelry. One or two thieves typically approach a victim and overwhelm them by talking and placing fake jewelry around the victim’s head, neck, or wrist. Sleight of hand techniques are then used to take off the victim’s own jewelry, replacing it with fake jewelry, before fleeing in a waiting vehicle driven by an accomplice.
A rash of distraction thefts hit south Vancouver earlier this year, as six incidents were reported to police in the span of two days in late March. Two people were arrested in those cases, and the methods used and age groups targeted were similar.
Ten different reports of wallets or purses being stolen on the SkyTrain system happened right around this time last year, while a Roma crime group was linked to a number of similar thefts in 2017.
“Don’t let anybody invade your personal space,” Addison advised. “Tell anybody who tries to give you jewelry to get lost. Be assertive. Tell them you’re not interested. Call us right away.”
Anyone with information about this distraction theft, or others, is asked to call VPD’s Major Crime Section at 604-717-2541 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.