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VPD issues warning after dramatic increase in distraction thefts

Vancouver – Vancouver Police are again encouraging residents to be vigilant following a spike in jewelry scams on the city’s east side.

“Every spring we see an increase in these types of crimes as the days get longer and the weather improves,” says Sergeant Steve Addison, VPD. “However, the exponential growth since January is extremely concerning.”

VPD has seen a 400 per cent increase in jewelry scams since the beginning of 2021, from three in January to 15 in March. Thirty incidents have been reported to VPD so far this year, and there are likely dozens more that have gone unreported.

The scammers typically use sleight-of-hand distraction techniques to steal valuables from unsuspecting victims, or by trading fake and worthless jewelry in exchange for cash.

“These thieves succeed by overwhelming their victims with the element of surprise, or by convincing them to go against their better judgement,” adds Sergeant Addison. “Usually, by the time someone realizes they’ve been tricked, the scammers are long gone. This makes catching them and charging them very difficult.”

Recent incidents of note:

  • A 57-year-old man was sitting at a bus stop near Main Street and East 41st Avenue in January when he was approached by a man and woman driving a black Toyota Sienna. The couple had three young children in the car and said they were desperate for money to get back to Montreal. They convinced the unsuspecting victim to withdraw $3,000 from the bank in exchange for handfuls of fake jewelry.
  • A woman was walking near Kingsway and Joyce Street in February when a brown sedan pulled up beside her. A woman got out of the passenger seat, approached the 63-year-old victim, and put a chain around her neck. The victim refused and told the woman to go away. An hour later, the victim realized her necklace was gone.
  • Earlier this month, a 56-year-old woman was walking her dog near Fraser Street and East 33rd Avenue when a woman got out of a car, approached her, and claimed the victim reminded her of her dead mother. The scammer tried to put a fake necklace around the victim’s neck, then hugged her. While doing so, the suspect removed the victim’s necklace and bracelet.  The victim went home and told family members, but by the time police were called the suspects were long gone.

“While the victims and locations may vary, there are three fundamental elements to these crimes that rarely change,” adds Sergeant Addison. “The suspects always have jewelry, they typically target elderly and unsuspecting visible minorities, and they primarily operate on the city’s east side.”

Vancouver Police remind all residents to remain vigilant, not to let people enter their personal space, and to immediately report all encounters with jewelry scammers so police can respond immediately and search the area for suspects.

“The best thing we can do to prevent jewelry scams and distraction thefts is to understand how these thieves operate, to avoid falling victim, and to call police right away,” says Sergeant Addison.

Crimes in progress can be reported immediately to 9-1-1.