PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. (WJLA) — Authorities in Virginia are warning shoppers about a new twist on a crime of opportunity, saying that thieves are using strategically placed shopping carts to distract their victims in several recent purse thefts.
We believe the shopping carts are being used as a ruse to get the victim out of the vehicle," said First Sgt. Jonathan Perok of the Prince William County Police Department.
In recent weeks, he said there have been two reported cases of purses being stolen at the Braemar Village shopping plaza.
"In both instances, they were reported similarly. Either the shopping cart was nearby or possibly behind their vehicle, so it prompts them to essentially get out of their car, leaving their valuables unsecured," Perok said.
He said that's when the suspect or suspects move in.
"What happens is the victim, typically the driver, and typically they're by themselves, gets out of the vehicle to go move the shopping cart and while they're distracted and dealing with that, which takes just a few seconds, 20, 30 seconds tops, the suspect is essentially getting into the vehicle and removing any valuables that they can," said Perok. "It doesn't take long to open a car door that's unlocked, snatch whatever you can, and run."
Investigators said there have been no physical altercations reported in these thefts. In fact, in both cases, Perok said it happened so quickly that the victims did not even see the suspect or suspects.
So, they're purposely being sneaky," he said.
The Prince William County Police Department put out a series of tweets about the recent cases, hoping to raise awareness about the tactic thieves are using to steal purses from cars.
"We wanted to bring this to the community's attention because it is unusual," Perok said, referencing the shopping carts being used as a ruse. "If you see shopping carts seemingly strategically placed, that might be a clue that something is off."
In response to these recent thefts, Perok said Prince William County officers will be increasing their presence at the Braemar Village shopping plaza, along with other shopping centers throughout the county during the busy holiday shopping season.
They're also urging shoppers to be vigilant and to keep their purses, bag, or other valuables with them at all times.
"Make sure you're not on your phone, make sure you're paying attention," Perok said. "If you have to get out of your vehicle, even for just a few moments, it's always best to just lock the door, turn off the engine and take the keys."
Perok said the two recent cases both happened at the end of November. So far there is no suspect description, and the thieves have not been caught on surveillance cameras.
"It's a quick crime of opportunity type situation," Perok said. "And unfortunately, it can happen in any parking lot."