The Burbank Police Department is investigating several cases of distraction-style thefts targeted at retail shoppers that law enforcement says have been occurring more often in recent months.
Thieves are stealing from unsuspecting victims under the guise of friendly and unassuming encounters in public, according to police.
“In recent cases, suspects will work together and approach a victim and distract them by engaging in casual conversation or [by] asking innocuous questions to get their attention,” said Burbank Police Department spokesman Sgt. Stephen Turner. “This will cause the victim to turn their attention away from their purse or wallet while the second suspect takes the item.”
The prime target of these encounters are grocery stores, warehouse stores, home décor and clothing retailers and drugstores, said Turner.
While some incidents are occurring inside the store, some suspects are known to contact victims in the parking lot. While one suspect distracts the victim, another will open a passenger door and retrieve the victim’s belongings from inside the car.
“Unfortunately, not every business maintains surveillance cameras. When footage exists, it may not always present high-quality video that will allow for suspect identification or the capability to read a license plate,” said Turner. “Therefore, it is critical for the community to remain vigilant while going about their day.”
To help the community safeguard themselves from this type of theft, the Burbank Police Department recommends the following:
— Always be aware of surroundings.
— Keep purses or bags that zip, snap or buckle closed.
— Conceal money, money envelopes and or money bags.
— Do not leave purse or bags in shopping carts or unattended.
— Always keep purses or bags to the front of one’s body and within sight.
— Never engage in any physical contact with a stranger.
If individuals happen to fall victim to this type of crime, notify the police immediately and obtain as much information as possible about the suspect(s) and any vehicle that may be involved. The Burbank Police Department reminds the public they can always report suspicious activity to the non-emergency, 24-hour number, at (818) 238-3000. For emergencies, dial 9-1-1.
First published in the February 10 print issue of the Burbank Leader.