09/05/2013 10:37 EDT | Updated 11/05/2013 05:12 EST

'Distraction Thefts' Across Lower Mainland Triggers Police Warning


DELTA, B.C. - Police in the Vancouver area have issued yet another public warning about so-called "distraction thefts," in which unsuspecting victims are overwhelmed by someone asking for help while they are robbed of jewelry or other valuables after someone stole a multi-diamond ring from an elderly woman in suburban Delta.

Police in Delta, south of Vancouver, revealed details about the latest incident Thursday as the RCMP in neighbouring Surrey issued their own warnings about such thefts. Similar incidents have been reported in Vancouver and Abbotsford.

In Delta, police said a senior was approached last Saturday in a residential area of the city.

A man and a woman in a grey vehicle flagged down the woman to ask for directions, police said. The female suspect stepped out the car, approached the victim and placed a piece of jewelry in her hand as the suspect removed a ring and a watch.

The suspects fled in the vehicle.

Delta police said in a news release the ring features seven individual diamonds in a cluster on a wide gold band and has sentimental value to the victim.

In Surrey, the RCMP said similar incidents had occurred there, though the force didn't provide many specifics.

Cpl. Bert Paquet said there have been several incidents in the past several weeks and he said investigators have a person of interest.

"In these cases, a suspect would approach the victim and distract them with a story about troubles or looking for directions to the hospital, looking very distraught and panicked," Paquet said.

"Very often, the victim will be overwhelmed, and it is during that moment of distraction that some of the jewelry has appeared to be stolen."

Paquet said anyone wearing valuable jewelry in public should be aware of their surroundings and be skeptical if someone approaches them with a suspicious story, particularly if that person attempts to touch them.

He said it's not clear whether any of the similar thefts in surrounding communities are related, but investigators are considering that possibility.

"Definitely, we're working together to see if our cases are connected, but at this point in time, it's too early to say, although the description of the suspect and the MO is extremely similar," he said.

This past May, police in Vancouver announced they had charged three men and a woman in connection with a rash of distraction thefts, referring to the suspects in a news release as "bandits."

The four suspects, who were each charged with theft and fraud, were arrested after a 72-year-old man in Vancouver was targeted by jewelry thieves.

At the time, Vancouver police suggested there were other groups operating in the region.