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Jewelry theft trend in Irvine targets elderly while suspects distract victims

2023-06-10

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Police say a jewelry theft trend is on the rise with the suspects targeting the elderly and taking their valuables while distracting them.

It's not what Zahira Iqbal expected after nearly 40 years of living in the city and taking daily walks on her own street.

"I was like in a daze, you know, that (it) happened to me," Iqbal said.

The necklace given to her by her husband's family upon the arrangement of their marriage was ripped right off her neck without her even noticing.

Iqbal said the necklace was of great sentimental value to her.

"Yeah, every day since then I've been always wearing it," Iqbal said.

Iqbal said this past Wednesday morning, a middle-aged man and woman approached her in a vehicle.

Surveillance cameras captured the dark SUV -- possibly a Chevy Traverse.

The woman sitting in the back called Iqbal over.

"I just stood there and said, 'Do you need help?' She said, 'Just come here. Are you a Muslim?' So I thought she must be a Muslim in need of some help," Iqbal said.

Instead, they claimed to be visitors from Dubai.

When Iqbal approached the car, the woman placed a necklace on her, then tried to do the same with a glove and watch.

"She was so tightly holding my hand that I suspected something and I started pulling away," Iqbal said.

Bruising on Iqbal's wrist shows how tight the suspect's grip was.

Police said the suspects were going for gold bangles on Iqbal's wrist. Instead, they took off, but not empty handed.

"Then I said, 'She put a necklace on me. Let me see.' That's when I figured that she had taken it, but by that time they had gone," Iqbal said.

There are 15 similar incidents since the start of the year, and 30 in the last calendar year, according to Irvine Police.

Kyle Oldoerp, a public relations specialist with Irvine P.D. said usually, a man and woman target an elderly female who is alone in a shopping center. The female suspect asks the victims for help.

"Then, while they're asking that question, they distract them by putting on a piece of jewelry or using it to say thank you for the directions they've given them, and while they're doing that, they're actually removing a piece of the victim's jewelry," Oldoerp said.

The victims usually haven't realized the theft occurred until its over and the suspects have left.

Police have warned people to keep their distance when strangers approach them, and leave their nice jewelry at home.

"I would help people, but I think I should avoid them touching me," Iqbal said.

On Friday, police said they didn't have any leads on the suspects. They said the vehicles used in the cases reported have been different and there was a chance they were rentals.

Iqbal said she didn't see any plates on the SUV the suspects were in.

According to Irvine P.D., Iqbal's loss was valued at $3,000. Police estimated the total loss of the 15 cases reported since the start of the year at $97,000.

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