Highland Park authorities are looking for a thief who posed as a Good Samaritan.
The thief, in what’s described as possibly a Chevrolet Tahoe, pulled up near a woman who had returned to her car in the parking lot of the Whole Foods in the 4100 block of Lomo Alto Drive around 8 p.m. Nov. 11 and told her someone had hit her car, according to a police report.
When the woman went around to the passenger side of her car to look for possible damage, the thief reached into the driver’s side door that she’d left open, grabbed her purse and iPhone, and got back into his white SUV, according to the report.
The woman tried to run to stop the thief when she realized what’d happened, but she tripped, fell, and hit her head on the pavement, the report states.
The man asked the woman, “are you OK?” when he saw she was injured before speeding off from the parking lot onto Lomo Alto Drive and west on Lemmon Avenue, according to the report.
Highland Park Department of Public Safety spokesman Lt. Lance Koppa said such ‘distraction’ techniques are rare in Highland Park, but commonly known to law enforcement.
“Anybody really can be caught off guard by something that sounds very real and something that can happen because there’s probably a lot of people that can think back to a time when they’ve come out and found their car damaged because it was struck in a parking lot,” Koppa said. “So they’re using that story to cause alarm from the victim…the suspect strategy was to physically move the victim away from the desired property item, which was handbag, cell phone, whatever’s inside the car and put the victim in a position where they’re unable to really respond or slow to respond and if they are to respond, they’re physically at a disadvantage because of distance.”
Koppa encouraged doing a quick inspection of your car to make sure it’s in the same shape it was when it was left can help prevent similar incidents.
“In this case, a person can buy themselves some time by picking up their phone if they have one and calling somebody to alert a friend, ‘Hey, I’m in the parking of this store or this restaurant and somebody just flagged me down and said my car’s been hit,’ so while you’re on the phone, you’re letting somebody else know your location, what’s happening, and then, really, the point at which you need some assistance is going to be from law enforcement if your car has been hit,” he added.
Koppa said if someone were to get out of their car, though, he encouraged taking the keys and locking the car before getting out to inspect.
He said similar distraction techniques can happen in stores.
“This is pretty well versed distraction technique. The suspects that use this technique practice it, and so there’s going to be voice tone that’s very intentional that will cause a reaction from the victim if they’re just trying to be a helpful bystander or play upon your willingness to help or be friendly,” Koppa said. “For example, ‘Hey, do you mind reading this label for me? I can’t read this label’ and you’re inside a grocery store shopping, you turn to help the person read a label, then another suspect is reaching into the purse, the handbag to get the wallet out.”
Those with any information about the incident at Whole Foods are asked to call Detective Nance at 214-559-9306.