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Toronto police warn of distraction thefts targeting seniors

Toronto police are warning the public about thieves who are targeting seniors in distraction thefts in Toronto and the GTA.

There have been more than a dozen incidents in 41 Division – the area bounded by Highway 401, Brimley Road, Victoria Park Avenue and Lake Ontario – alone since November 2013.

Det. Wes Neal said the thieves target seniors who are alone in shopping malls or plazas.

“[They give them] all kinds of compliments, there’s a lot of touching involved, and very nice words to gain their trust,” Neal said at a news conference on Tuesday morning.

“A lot of our seniors are independent, they’re out there doing their shopping. They worked hard all their lives and they’re being accosted by these criminals.”

He also said the thieves operate in groups of two or three or more, and for them stealing from seniors is their job.

“With this many people involved, I mean, most people get up and they go to work, and they work hard and earn a living. These people get up in the morning and their prime goal is to go out there, find these victims and rip them off,” Neal said.

The thieves, usually operating in pairs, seek out a senior who is alone at a mall or plaza and start plying them with compliments and offer them gifts of jewellery.

Det. Neal said it’s an organized group of people who are purposely going after seniors.

“I think that these are groups that roll through different areas as quickly as we make an arrest. It’s almost like another group steps up and starts the same type of behaviour,” he said.

The criminals put fake gold items on their hands or necks while removing the victim’s real jewellery. It’s often several hours before the victim realizes what’s happened.

Police also said the thieves often use rental cars they picked up in Quebec and then dump in the GTA.

Investigators have put together a re-enactment video to get the message out. Watch the video below: