ELLSWORTH – A rash of purse thefts in the city’s shops has prompted Ellsworth police to warn women shoppers to keep a close eye on their pocketbooks.
Ellsworth officers have handled around seven such thefts in the past 10 days or so, according to Lt. Harold Page. There may have been more, he said. Some victims are embarrassed and do not report the thefts.
The suspects have concentrated on the shopping centers and Wal-Mart, and the targets are always women’s wallets and handbags, Page said. The thieves apparently watch for unattended shopping carts with handbags or purses left in them.
“In the past, they’ve usually just gone for a pocketbook,” Page said. “But there seems to be a new group in town. They’re just taking the wallet from the pocket book.”
In some recent incidents, he said, it appears that there has been more than one person involved. While one distracts a woman, the other swipes the wallet.
Police think that’s what happened to an Ellsworth woman on Thursday night when thieves stole her wallet containing $200. In that case, a man rammed her shopping cart, presumably on purpose and then distracted her while someone else took her wallet from her purse, which was sitting in the cart.
This kind of theft takes only a minute to complete, he said.
“Often, the victims don’t realize what’s happened until they go to check out,” Page said.
It is possible that the thieves have moved into the city from other areas in the state that have reported similar types of crimes in recent months, Page said.
“That’s the way they operate. They’ll work an area for a few days and then move on,” he said. “They’re real professionals. People have to be careful with their handbags.”
Page said there are some precautions that women can take while shopping.
The best solution would be to leave their pocketbooks locked in the car and just take a wallet or checkbook into the store.
If women take their pocketbooks into the store, they should be aware of those around them.
“If they’re seeing the same person in the same places as they are, they’re probably being followed,” Page said. “They should do something to get away or be extremely alert.”
Page also urged victims to report the crimes as quickly as possible to police.