News article

Distraction thefts, Exeter and East Devon

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Police warning after thieves target elderly shoppers

Police are calling on shoppers to be extra vigilant after a series of “distraction thefts” at a number of supermarkets across Exeter and East Devon.

There have been numerous instances in the last few months of people, mainly pensioners, who have had their PIN numbers stolen by someone looking over their shoulders at the till, and then being distracted in the car park and having their purses or wallets stolen.

In each case the thieves have subsequently made swift purchases, sometimes amounting to several thousands of pounds.

Police are keen to raise awareness of the tactics being employed by the thieves, which include a member of the group – which include both men and women – distracting a shopper in the car park while an accomplice carries out the theft.

Police are investigating at least six recent incidents at supermarket car parks in Exeter and East Devon, including one on Thursday 6 February in the Tesco Exe Vale car park. An 88-year-old woman was approached by a woman and a man at her car and her purse was stolen with purchases totalling more than £2,500 subsequently made.

On Friday 31 January in the car park of Waitrose, Heavitree, an 87-year-old man was approached by a woman who started making conversation while another man stole his bank cards from his wallet. The thieves subsequently made purchases from various shops in Exeter city centre totalling almost £5,000.

Similar incidents have occurred at Tesco in Seaton, Sainsbury’s in Pinhoe, Exeter, and Waitrose in Sidmouth.

Police Constable Kat Henton, said: “It’s clear that a gang of up to three men and a female are freely targeting elderly people with little or no concern of being caught on camera.

“Both elderly men and women are being targeted and reports are becoming more prevalent.

“The group members have been described to us as being of Eastern European ethnicity and often the male party is described as having a “foreign” accent.

“These thefts revolve around people being targeted at supermarkets for their bank cards. 

“Shoppers are unwittingly being observed when paying for goods at the checkout. Accomplices in the supermarket car park are then approaching the individuals, and while one distracts them, either asking for directions or engaging them in general conversation, the other offender sneaks in to the car and steals their bag or purse or pickpockets them.

“We have found that the cards are used almost immediately to purchase high value items using the PIN, or to withdraw cash.

“We are encouraging people to make sure that their PIN numbers are well hidden when inputting them at the checkout, and that personal belongings including wallets and purses are kept safe and not left unattended at any time.”

Anyone who has any information that could assist police enquiries, or anyone who has been a victim of theft, is asked to call 101 quoting CR/008855/20.

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