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Police warning shoppers about spike in pickpocketing, distraction thefts

Thieves 'shoulder-surfing' for PIN numbers and using distraction to rip people off

Greater Sudbury Police are warning shoppers to be on the lookout after a spike in pick-pocketing at the South End Wal-Mart, though police say the crimes could happen anywhere in the city.

Police say 'shoulder-surfing' is a technique where, if you don't block your PIN while inputting it into a debit machine when paying for a purchase, a person can get close enough to peer over someone's shoulder and see the number.

That person then follows the victim to the parking lot and distracts them while they or someone else steals the victim's wallet or credit and debit cards.

Police say the same two suspects — described vaguely as men with heavy accents — have mostly approached older adults as they loaded groceries into their vehicles. 

"On one occasion, a male distracted the victim by asking for directions, while another male stole the victim's wallet from her purse in the shopping cart," police reported. The theft cost the victim more than $5,000 in fraudulent transactions. "In a separate occasion, two males approached a victim asking for directions and while covering the victim's purse with a map, stole her bank cards resulting in over $10,000 of fraudulent charges."

Police say to always closely guard your PIN when entering the number in debit machines or ATMS. Be aware who is standing near you and make sure to block the number from curious eyes.

"Although the above incidents occurred at the South End Wal-Mart parking lot, these incidents can happen anywhere," police said.

Distraction theft involves someone distracting the victim in some way by striking up a conversation, whether to ask for directions, pretend to be having car trouble or asking for help in some way. While the victim's attention is focussed elsewhere, the thief or an accomplice robs them.

"Stay safe and stay alert. If you have elderly loved ones who may have limited or no access to social media or the Internet, please pass this message along."

Report suspicious activity to Police at 705-675-9171. For a crime in progress, call 911.