Calgary, AB,

Police warn of distraction thefts and seek multiple suspects

We are asking Calgarians to be vigilant following a recent string of distraction thefts.

From late January to early February 2023, 12 distraction theft cases with many similarities have been reported to police. We believe two to four suspects are working in tandem to steal financial information by targeting vulnerable victims shopping at major retail chains. In each case, the victims made a purchase using their debit or credit card and were approached by an unknown man while attempting to exit the premises or in the parking lot.

The scam starts with a suspect observing victims as they enter their PIN, also known as shoulder-surfing, while they make a purchase with their debit or credit card. It is believed the suspect then signals to another suspect that the PIN has been obtained and to proceed with a distraction tactic to provide an opportunity to steal the victim’s debit and credit cards.

Following these encounters, victims have reported to police that their debit and credit cards are missing, and that fraudulent transactions and cash withdraws have been made.

In one instance, an 80-year-old woman, named Diane, attended a major retail store in South Trail Crossing, on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, at approximately 3:45 p.m. After using her credit card to make a purchase, she proceeded toward the exit and was approached by an unknown man who offered to help her walk to her car due to icy road conditions. She accepted the man’s help and they proceeded to her vehicle in the store’s parking lot. The man assisted with pushing her shopping cart, which contained her open purse.

After helping Diane put shopping bags in the trunk of her car, the man walked around her vehicle and informed her she had a loose tire valve cap due to excess snow on one of the tires. She proceeded to tighten the tire valve cap and noticed the man disappeared. Investigators believe the man removed her debit and credit cards from her open purse while she was distracted with fixing the loose tire valve cap.

Two days later, on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023, Diane reported the incident to police after discovering she had been defrauded more than $21,000 through cash withdraws and transactions completed with her debit and credit cards shortly after encountering the unknown man.

“Seniors are common targets for fraudsters as they take advantage of their good nature and believe that elderly people have plenty of money in the bank,” said Const. Shaun Vandal of the Calgary Police Service. “We are asking Calgarians to be mindful of this scam and their surroundings while shopping. If you encounter someone who is in extremely close proximity to you, proceed to a safe place and report the incident to store staff or police.”

Investigators are working diligently to identify the suspects connected to the 12 distraction theft cases reported between late January and early February of this year.

Anyone with information related to Diane’s case or other distraction theft incidents is asked to contact police by calling 403-266-1234.  Tips can also be submitted anonymously to Crime Stoppers through any of the following methods:

TALK: 1-800-222-8477
APP: P3 Tips

Case # CA23047790/5545

Below are steps citizens can take to safeguard themselves from distraction thefts:

  • Always shield the PIN pad when entering your PIN at any ATM, retail store or financial institution.
  • While at an ATM, or paying for merchandise, be aware of anyone standing nearby who can observe you entering your PIN, also known as shoulder-surfing.
  • If you encounter someone who is in extremely close proximity to you, proceed to a safe place and report the incident to store staff or police.
  • Trust your gut, if something seems suspicious or too good to be true, it probably is.