Her purse was stolen while shopping at FreshCo. Hamilton police offer tips for seniors on ‘disturbing’ distraction thefts

·3 min read

Police are investigating after a 63-year-old Hamilton woman’s purse was stolen while she was shopping, a type of theft where they say seniors are often targeted.

Around 6 p.m. one evening in early November, Fatima Lyasidi was getting groceries at the FreshCo at Queenston and Nash. She was reaching toward the top of a shelf to grab something. When she turned back around, she saw someone next to her shopping cart, moving around and behaving “nervously.”

She looked away for a second and the next thing she knew, her purse was gone from her cart, and the person she’d seen had disappeared.

“I freaked out,” said the grandmother of nine. “I was so upset.”

Inside her black Guess purse was her wallet, phone, ID cards, debit cart, keys and medication. She contacted the police.

Hamilton police say they are investigating and seeking surveillance video. Const. Jerome Stewart said the service doesn’t record stats on this specific type of theft.

“This is a ‘general type’ of theft and as such those offences are lumped together as simply ‘thefts’ along with shop theft, bicycle thefts, etc.,” he said in an email.

In Halton region, about 100 purse thefts took place this year compared to approximately 140 last year, said Det. Const. Derek Gray, who is an older adult abuse and financial crime investigator for Halton police.

Gray was involved in a recent bust of three people who are now facing about 300 charges related to “distraction thefts” targeting older women in Halton and the GTA.

While people can steal purses any time a victim isn’t paying attention, a distraction theft involves more co-ordination. For example, one person might be inside a store watching customers enter their PIN at the cash register. Meanwhile, another might be in the parking lot waiting to approach the customer with a question or to offer help, while the first person sneaks over to the car and removes credit cards from the purse in the front seat.

Gray said the thieves generally use the cards to buy prepaid visas and credit cards and take out cash advances from ATMs.

“Seniors typically shop one day every three or four days, so they would go home (from shopping) ... then all of a sudden they would go to use their card and they would be missing,” Gray said.

But he believes that while victims often contact their bank to report a theft, they don’t always call police.

“The truth is that once you lose your driver’s licence or your identity documents, you don’t know who’s got your stuff,” he said. “The best practice is to report it to police.”

He suggests people check their credit annually because if thieves access a person’s personal information, they can use it to make purchases under their name.

He added that purses and wallets should only be packed with necessities and to avoid large amounts of cash. Tap a card for a transaction when possible instead of entering the PIN, and have a different PIN for each card. Gray also recommends wearing a cross-body bag to avoid purses from being left unattended.

“Prevention and education is the best way to solve frauds,” Gray said.

Thankfully, Lyasidi didn’t have much cash in her purse, but said the thief immediately went to the bank and withdrew $80 from her account.

She said all she wants is her belongings to be returned. What bothers her most is that her purse had photos of her son who died two years prior. She hopes her story serves as a warning to others.

“Since then I hardly sleep, I’m so disturbed,” she said.

Maria Iqbal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator