Police in Chester County urge shoppers to be aware of surroundings amid rise in pickpocketing

Police say a suspect will distract a woman, while others move in to remove the woman's wallet from her purse.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2023
Police urge shoppers to be aware amid rise in pickpocketing
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Police in Tredyffrin Township, Pennsylvania are urging shoppers to be aware of their surroundings after a rise in pickpocketing in the area.

TREDYFFRIN TWP., Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Police in Tredyffrin Township put out a warning on Monday after seeing a rash of wallet thefts at area stores.

The police put out pictures of four suspects seen walking out of a TJ Maxx at the Gateway Shopping Center on March 9.

Police say a suspect will distract a woman, while others move in to remove the woman's wallet from her purse.

"People are leaving their purses or handbags in shopping carts. They are distracted by what they are looking at and people are walking right up and taking their wallets," said Lt. Tyler Moyer with the Tredyffrin Township Police Department.

He said the crime has surged in recent weeks with at least a half dozen reports. Groups of people steal wallets out of purses and rack up thousands of dollars in fraudulent charges before the victim realizes their cards have been stolen.

It happened at Trader Joes, TJ Maxx and Panera Bread at the Gateway Shopping Center and the Acme in Paoli.

Shoppers were surprised by how easy it is to become a victim.

"I need to be very careful," said Susan Conner, who was shopping at one of the stores on Tuesday.

These thefts are not only happening in Tredyffrin Township. 6abc showed video of a theft from nearby West Whiteland Township last week.

Two suspects could be seen rummaging through a woman's purse as she sat at a table inside Whole Foods, distracted by her phone.

Thieves get wallets one of two ways. They either look for a distracted person with an open purse, or they use teamwork.

"An individual will approach someone and engage them in casual conversation. When they get distracted the other [suspect] will reach in their purse and take their wallet," said Lt. Moyer.

"They're organized," said Daniel Yablonski, who was shopping on Tuesday. "We have to get organized. We have to get organized and defend ourselves against this and our loved ones."

Many shoppers had heard about the growing number of crimes and took the warnings to heart. One shopper said she even ties her purse to her cart.

"It's around the handlebar so they cannot take it and I zip it," said Cecilia Jacobini.

Police are looking for information on their suspects. They do not know if all the thefts are connected.