Police are encouraging the public to be extra vigilant as thieves target shoppers across Cheshire.
Offenders are known to visit cafes and supermarkets to target women on their own — believed to be aged 60 and above — to steal their items and money.
Thieves will often be working in pairs or groups where one will distract the victim while the other steals from them.
While local Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) will be patrolling public areas, cafes and supermarkets as well as providing prevention advice to charity shops, police are keen to remind the public to also be on their guard.
The local community can help protect themselves from thieves by following these simple steps.
- Do not leave your handbag hung over the shopping trolley or unattended at any time. Make sure your bag has a secure zip fastening and for added security, secure your purse inside a zipped pocket inside the bag to help protect against thieves reaching inside your bag or purse to search for valuables.
- If you are approached by a stranger in unusual circumstances in or around a supermarket, do not engage with them, particularly if they ask for directions or change. Be firm with them, walk away, and report any suspicious activity to the police.
- When using a chip & pin device or ATM, always shield your number with your hand. Avoid using cash machines that appear to have been tampered with, or where groups of people are hanging around.
Superintendent Peter Crowcroft: "These thieves are driven by opportunity and target women who are on their own in a café or shopping in the supermarket. We have also noticed how they tend to steal from those who are aged 60 or over.
"To help deter thieves and provide reassurance to the local community local officers will be carrying out regular patrols and giving advice to local shops.
"I would also encourage the public to make elderly friends and neighbours aware of these thieves and if possible to purchase purse bells, which can be a great deterrent."
Dale Maskell, Chief Executive of Age UK Cheshire, added: "We support Cheshire police in urging members of the public to remain alert and vigilant. We don't want to scare people, especially older people, or stop them from going about their business as usual, but it is of paramount importance that people are aware that distraction thefts are on the increase and that by following the above advice they are helping to protect themselves."
Anyone who sees anyone acting suspiciously or has any information should contact Cheshire Police on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.