Police in Metro Vancouver are looking for at least six thieves who have targeted dozens of seniors in broad daylight, using so-called distraction and blessing scams.
According to police records compiled by CBC, the victims often come from different cultures living all across Metro Vancouver.
But what they all share in common is that they are vulnerable seniors who are too easily targeted by clever thieves, eager to take their jewelry, cash and other valuables.
Distraction & blessing scams reported
- Coquitlam 3
- Surrey 3
- Delta 1
- Vancouver 18
In the distraction scam thieves approach a potential victim who is wearing gold earrings, necklaces, bracelets or rings, and overwhelms him or her by talking and placing fake jewelry or a scarf on the victim's head, neck or wrist.
The thief then removes the victim's jewelry, leaving behind the fake jewelry or scarf in its place. The victims, who have become disoriented and confused, don't know they've been scammed until they notice their jewelry is missing.
In the blessing scam a group of Cantonese-speaking Asian suspects convinced the seniors they needed to have a large sum of money and jewelry blessed by a spiritual doctor to ward off the bad luck.
The suspects then arrange for the seniors to bring them the valuables a few hours later, have the victims put them in a bag to be blessed and tell them not to check the contents for a specific period.
Tips for seniors
- Leave valuable jewelry at home. Avoid attracting unwanted attention.
- Assert yourself if you feel like someone's too close for comfort.
- Get out of the situation as quickly as possible.
- If they're persistent, draw attention to yourself, speak loudly and make it clear you want them to leave.
- Call 911 and report the incident to police.
But when the bag is opened, the seniors are alarmed to learn that their valuables have been replaced with worthless items.
Crimes of opportunity
Police have not established any organized connection between the two types of scams, but RCMP Sgt. Bernie Smandych says both appear to simple crimes of opportunity.
"It seems to be a predator who is not too complicated and sees an opportunity that takes advantage of that opportunity, it's usually not a complex type of criminal."
Martha Jane Lewis at the B.C. Centre for Elder Advocacy and Support says scammers play upon seniors' emotional vulnerability.
"These are just awful sociopathic people," she said.
Police say many of these thefts likely go unreported because seniors are embarrassed to report them.