A gang of organised crooks are raking in “an absolute fortune” by targeting vulnerable women on the Fylde coast, police today said.
A Blackpool police inspector has blasted the “sickening” thieves who distract their elderly victims with sob stories while another member of the group steals their purse.
One victim the other day got fleeced for almost £5,000 before she was able to report the card missing.Mark Morley
After yesterday’s report as police urged residents to be vigilant around cash points and guard their belongings, The Gazette today exposes the scale of the gang’s offending.
On one occasion, they followed a woman home to steal her bank card after spying on her at a Thornton cashpoint.
Police say the gang, who are thought to be Eastern European, have struck up and down the country – but come to the Fylde coast on a regular basis.
Insp Mark Morley, of Blackpool Police, said: “They go after late middle age to elderly females – it’s despicable stuff.
“One victim the other day got fleeced for almost £5,000 before she was able to report the card missing.
“These people are hitting us with distraction thefts and they are quite sickening – if that was your relative you would not be happy.”
He said police are stepping up their efforts to catch the crooks, including carrying out plainclothes operations when they are likely to be in town, but urged residents to be vigilant.
Police believe the same gang is behind several similar offences and have released CCTV images of two people linked to thefts right across the UK – but more are thought to be involved in the plot.
The pictures are taken from footage recorded in Aldi, on Parkinson Way, South Shore, following a theft on June 11, when a 76-year-old woman had her purse stolen.
The images were first printed last month but The Gazette can now reveal the same pair are being linked to a spate of thefts in Blackpool, Thornton, Lancaster and beyond. The most recent incident was at Tesco, on Clifton Road, in Marton, on July 10, when a 72-year-old woman from Warton fell victim to the thieves.
Insp Morley added: “They are preying on innocent and vulnerable members of the community.
“These people are very busy – they will be making an absolute fortune.”
On July 3, a woman was targeted after the thieves spotted her using the cash machine at Thornton Medical Centre, on Church Road.
Insp Morley said: “They have then followed her home.
“I suspect that is because they have been unable to get to her before.”
One of the thieves approached her as she got out of her car and asked for directions. While the victim was distracted, another member of the gang stole her purse from her unlocked car.
Three days later the thieves struck in Lancaster, when they followed their victim from a cash point to the car park at Aldi, on Morecambe Road.
This time one of the crooks distracted her with a story about his wife being in hospital having a baby.
Once they had her card and details they stole £4,500 by withdrawing cash from machines across the region – including two withdrawals at an Asda store in Blackpool.
Other offences have taken place at Marks and Spencer stores on Church Street, Blackpool, and Victoria Road West, Cleveleys, as well as Morrisons on Mill Street, Kirkham.
It is not clear if the pair pictured were involved in each offence but police say they believe the same gang was behind them all.
In total police have released details of eight offences on the Fylde coast and Lancaster they are linking. In each case, the thieves targeted women in their 70s and 80s.
Insp Morley said: “We would urge people to be cautious when taking money out at cash points.
“If somebody approaches you by your vehicle, keep hold of your handbag.”
He said forces around the country have been in touch to say the man and woman pictured in the CCTV images are thought to be responsible for other crimes.
Police are also appealing for help to identify the pair and are following up leads on another two men thought to be involved in the gang.
Anyone with information is asked to contact police on 101.