Friendly ‘distraction’ thieves often target senior citizens

Working in pairs, one will engage the victim in conversation while the other lifts a wallet, phone or other valuables.

It’s that time of year when you need to be especially aware of your surroundings. Unfortunately a distraction thief claimed another victim when a senior lost her month’s pension money because she was trying to help out a young man.

The incident happened at her local grocery store while she was picking up a few essentials for the week. When she was browsing the soap section, she was approached by a man who appeared to be friendly and was asking about her selection of laundry soap.

He explained he had just recently moved out of the family home and was now on his own for the first time. He questioned the senior on her favourite type of laundry soap, as he said he had no idea what brand to buy.

After a few moments of idle chat, the lady wished the young fellow well and moved on to the next aisle.

While waiting in the checkout line, she did a quick check of her shopping list to make sure she didn’t forget anything.

Once satisfied, she placed the list in her purse, which she carried in the front of her shopping basket for safekeeping. After her groceries were rung through the till, she reached for her wallet and realized it was missing.

That “kind” young man in the soap department wasn’t so squeaky clean after all. He obviously was distracting the senior while an accomplice was rifling through her purse.

Here’s how these creeps usually work: The target is approached by a “distraction thief” from an angle that diverts the individual’s attention from the purse or other item of interest.

This usually begins with a crook striking up a friendly conversation, often about an opinion on a product or possibly what aisle to find a particular item.

Distraction thefts are usually performed by at least two people who “tag team” against their victim.

Once the victim is distracted, the accomplice will dive into the purse to steal a wallet, chequebook or even a smart phone.

These losers can be in and out of a purse in seconds, without so much as a glance from any bystanders. Often, a man and woman will work together to help gain the trust of the intended victim.

This type of thievery is not new to the “distraction professional.” Often well-spoken, these crooks like to dress the part by presenting a good, clean, trusting image for their targets.

These culprits are also known to visit residential neighbourhoods. Again the elderly seem to be the preferred target.

They are known to show up at the door in twos, masquerading as everything from roofing specialists to alarm professionals.

Their “MO” is much the same: one of the thieves will engage the victim in a conversation or phoney sales pitch to divert their attention, while the other crook steals the homeowner’s belongings.

Hours don’t matter much to the “distraction thief.” As a matter of fact, these specialized thieves prefer to work within the comforts of daylight hours because their targets feel safer then.

It’s all about gaining the confidence of the victim. Seniors are also targeted at their home because they pose less of a threat physically and are generally more trusting of strangers.

If a stranger – or two – comes to your door when you are home alone, don’t open the door. Tell the stranger through the door that you’re not available.

Do not keep large sums of money in your home. Keep all you’re banking information, like chequebooks, credit cards and bank books, well hidden in your home.

Whether you’re expecting a home repair man or not, always ask for identification before you let anybody in your house. And don’t forget to read their credentials, making sure that picture identification is attached to proper licences.

If for any reason you feel uneasy about who’s standing on your doorstep, call the police. They’d be more than happy to drop by your home to check out the situation.

And like I told my customer, carry a shoulder strap purse with a zipper or snap-flap closure and never let your purse out of your sight, especially when you’re in stores or other crowded areas.

Frank Fourchalk is a security professional with 26 years in the business. You can visit his website at You can also e-mail Frank at


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