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Thieves spend £6,300 on 81-year-old woman's credit card

By Paul Winspear

Distraction thieves spent 90% of an elderly woman’s £7,000 credit card limit in the first of three similar thefts at the Thorley Neighbourhood Centre in the space of 48 hours.

The 81-year-old pensioner had been shopping in Sainsbury’s at Thorley Park last Thursday morning (Nov 29).

She was loading her shopping and handbag into her car when she was approached by a white, clean-shaven man who spoke in broken English. He was carrying a map and asked her for directions.

Meanwhile, an accomplice opened her car door, delved through her handbag, opened her purse and took her bank cards. Within a short space of time, £6,300 had been spent on her credit card.

The second victim was targeted later that day. At around 3.15pm, a 58-year-old woman went into Albert's café after she had finished her food shop in Sainsbury's and put her handbag on a chair.

A man approached her, asking for a lighter. Fifteen minutes later, she realised her £300 Mulberry purse was missing from her bag. When she contacted her bank, she was told her card had been used four times after it was taken, amounting to £500.

On Saturday (Dec 1), a 71-year-old woman was targeted at the shopping precinct, shortly before 3pm. She put her Sainsbury's shopping and handbag in her car and went to return a trolley, leaving her vehicle unlocked for around 20 seconds.

When she returned, she noticed a man standing at the back of her car. He told her another vehicle car had bumped into the back of her car. She could not see any damage, so she dismissed it and drove home.

She realised that her purse was missing, so she went to cancel her bank cards. She was told that three withdrawals totalling over £1,400 had been made on her Barclaycard.

Sgt Mark Collins, of Stortford police's safer neighbourhood team, said: “The December festive rush is the perfect time for thieves to target busy shoppers who may have their minds on other things, such as ensuring everyone gets what they're hoping for this Christmas.

“The last thing anyone wants to find is that their bank cards have been stolen and used illegally by offenders.”

Herts police have issued several pointers on how shoppers can safeguard themselves against purse dippers:

• Use a handbag that can be closed properly, ideally with a zip to make it difficult for someone to open and reach in.

• If you use a handbag with a strap, wear it across your body and not just over one shoulder so it is more secure.

• Don't leave your handbag tucked under your chair or table where someone can grab it.

• Consider using a purse lanyard which attaches your phone or purse/wallet to your bag or clothes.

• If you do keep your purse in a shopping bag, put it at the bottom and not near the top, and use a shopping bag that can be closed if possible.

• Be as secure with your mobile phone or tablet as you would your purse or wallet and ensure it is put away safely if you use it in the street. You can register your valuables on the free online property database. That way, police have more chance of being able to return them to you if they're lost or stolen.

• Men should keep their wallet in a front pocket rather than in their back pocket, making it harder for a thief to slip their hand in unnoticed.

• Report any incidents straight away by calling the non-emergency number 101 or report information online. If a crime is in progress, or the offenders are nearby, always dial 999.

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