OC Sheriff Warns of Grocery Store Thefts

SANTA ANA (CNS) - Orange County Sheriff's Department investigators today warned the public about a noticeable uptick in wallet thefts primarily in south county grocery stores.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected crime trends, most notably with thieves focusing on shoppers' purses in markets, which have remained open amid other retail business closures resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

Sheriff's officials posted surveillance video footage on the department's social media sites to illustrate how easy it is for thieves to snatch a wallet out of a purse in a grocery store.

“In one case a man moves close to a shopper who is distracted in a produce section, and as she turns her back within seconds he grabs a wallet,'' said sheriff's Sgt. Dennis Breckner.

“The public needs to know they have to keep their head on a swivel when shopping,'' Breckner said. “When shopping, keep control of your personal items or keep them secured somehow and keep that distance from people.''

With health officials promoting social distancing, it should be especially suspicious when anyone edges closer to a shopper, he said.

Deputies recommend women try to secure their purse in the cart with a strap. The thieves don't usually take the purse, they just want the opportunity to sneak in and grab a wallet, Breckner said.

“Most victims don't even realize it until they get to the front counter that they're missing their wallet,'' he said. “For the most part, they do seem to be targeting females in grocery stores.''

Over the past month, there have been about a dozen of these types of thefts reported, Breckner said, noting that deputies suspect the number may be higher as many never report the crime.

Investigators do not think it is the work of a ring, however.

“All the cases involve different suspects,'' he said.

Investigators recommend that victims call their bank immediately whenthey notice the theft, Breckner said.

“In most of these cases, within minutes those cards are being used in other retail stores'' by the thieves, he said.

Investigators are seeing increases in car thefts, as well, as crime trends shift during the pandemic, Breckner said.

“We're talking about a 500% increase,'' he said.

Vehicle break-ins are up, as well as thieves cutting off catalytic converters, Breckner said.

“For awhile we were seeing an increase in residential burglaries, but that's not happening now because everyone is home,'' Breckner said.

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