A Vancouver woman is warning others after her her husband lost an irreplaceable family heirloom to a distraction thief.
It comes as Vancouver police warn the public about a 400 per cent surge in the sleight-of-hand thefts since the start of the year.
The woman, who Global News is identifying only as Quy to protect her safety, believes both she and her husband were approached separately by the same man.
The first instance happened when Quy was in the area of Victoria Drive and East 47the Avenue about three weeks ago when a man in his 30s with two kids in the back of a newer model silver Jeep pulled up.
“He got out and asked me, excuse me, do you know where the hospital is?” she said.
She told Global News she got a strange feeling about him, and told him he would be best served looking the address up on his phone. The man then tried to offer her jewelry, she said, but she told him she wasn’t interested and walked away.
About two weeks later, Quy’s husband fell prey to what’s believed to be the same scammer.
A man matching the same description in a silver Jeep with kids in the back, again asking about directions to the hospital, approached her husband.
When Quy’s husband offered directions, the man was thankful. The man asked her husband to wear his necklace for a moment, as a prayer to his father who was dying in hospital.
“My husband he thinks, oh, he can help,” she said.
It was only when her husband returned home that he realized his own necklace was missing: the man had removed both after placing what turned out to be a decoy around his neck.
Quy said her husband had owned the necklace nearly five decades — the same length of time they’ve been married — and that it was the only thing he had left from when the couple had been forced to flee Vietnam.
“That necklace for me and my husband, we’ve been married for 47 years. (For the) price, you can buy about 3,000 right now. But the memories for 47 years … That’s why my husband, he’s crying,” she said.
“That’s the only thing he has from the marriage, we escaped, right, so we lost everything.”
Vancouver police say there have been at least 30 distraction thefts in the city in 2021, and they believe many more may have gone unreported.
“These thieves succeed by overwhelming their victims with the element of surprise, or by convincing them to go against their better judgment,” Sgt. Steve Addison said.
“Usually, by the time someone realizes they’ve been tricked, the scammers are long gone. This makes catching them and charging them very difficult.”
Police gave several examples of recent swindles, all on the city’s east side and involving the scammer attempting to put jewelry on the victim — then stealing from them while they’re distracted.
“While the victims and locations may vary, there are three fundamental elements to these crimes that rarely change,” Addison said.
“The suspects always have jewelry, they typically target elderly and unsuspecting visible minorities, and they primarily operate on the city’s east side.”
Investigators are asking anyone who believes they were targeted by a distraction thief to call police immediately so officers can search the area for them.
Quy and her husband are holding out hope the priceless necklace can be replaced.
The couple was able to obtain security video from a home near where the theft happened, along with a licence plate number both of which they provided to police.
In the meantime, she’s hoping to get the word out.
“It looked like a very nice family. Because of the way he asked, very polite,” she said.
“It happened to me, it can happen to anyone.”