The Crime Prevention Website

Police in Shropshire today released this account of an attempted theft in Bridgnorth and acts as a timely reminder to us all to take care of handbags (and wallets) and when withdrawing cash.

The incident occurred in the Co-Operative store on Mill Street on Monday 5 August. At around 3.30pm, an 83-year-old lady who had just withdrawn £100 from the Post Office entered the Co-Op store. While she was selecting some bananas an unknown man approached her and started talking to her. As he talked to her another man quietly came up behind her and attempted to reach into her handbag to steal her purse. However, the lady saw the second man reach into her bag and warned him off which forced the two men to quickly flee the scene without taking anything.

Police believe she was followed from the Post Office and are now studying any available CCTV recordings.

The first of the two men that approached the lady is described as being white but tanned, around 5ft 7inches tall, in his late 40, with a muscular build, short hair and a grey goatee beard. He was wearing dark coloured jeans and a blue and white checked shirt. The second man is described as being white, around 5ft 8inches tall, with a large build and  a bald head.

Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call police in Shropshire on 101 or 0300 333 3000, quoting incident number 285S 050813. Alternatively, please remember that information can also be left anonymously by calling Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111

TCPW Comment: This elderly lady was quite clearly far more alert than the thieves had given her credit for and thankfully their attempt failed, but only just!

Once again I am making a few assumptions about how the incident came about, but by thinking this through logically we can think about what we might do in similar circumstances.

First of all, these men were working together which suggests they had been planning the theft and were on the lookout for a likely victim and an opportunity.  We don’t know if they were in the post office and saw the cash withdrawal – perhaps they did - or maybe they were standing outside watching the lady put her card in the reader at the counter and saw the bundle of cash being put through under the screen. 

Whatever the circumstances we now have two suspects who know that the lady has some cash in her purse and their next step is to work out how they’re going to steal it.

So what can we do?

Learn to keep an eye out  Simply be aware of the people who are around you when withdrawing cash over a counter or from an ATM or when conducting a transaction in a shop.  If you are at all suspicious about someone near to you when attempting to use an ATM, trust your instincts and delay the withdrawal for a little while until the ‘risk’ has gone.  In the Post Office or a bank you can bring your suspicions to the attention of the staff and very often this is all that is needed to put a thief off, especially since their intention is not to stand out and be identified.

Don’t flash the cash Hold the purse or wallet close to your body when you’re using it rather than holding it out in front of you where it and its contents can be seen more easily.  Try not to fuss about giving the right money, because this will mean your purse or wallet will be visible for longer.  This is a very important point, because some thieves, who were not planning to steal, will only then do so because a temptation has unexpectedly been presented to them.  

Reduce the potential losses There’s no magic solution to physically taking the cash across a counter at the Post Office, but it can be split up.  My elderly Aunty tells me that she always wears a ‘bum-bag’ when she withdraws some cash from her local post office on a Wednesday.  She puts some of it in her purse and the rest goes in her bum-bag, so should she lose the purse or handbag all is not lost.

Don’t invite thieving fingers When the purse goes back into the handbag then the handbag should be fastened or zipped up so that the easy dip can’t happen.  If the handbag has a flap that goes over the top of the bag hold the bag so that the flap’s fastening is towards your body.  And gentlemen should put their wallet into an inside jacket pocket (ones with zips are especially good) or into a front pocket of their trousers – not the back pocket, especially when the top of the trousers or jeans is visible and the bulge in the pocket is for all to see!  Ladies and gentlemen should be very aware of being stopped in the street by someone wanting change or otherwise asking you something that makes you take your wallet out or undo your handbag.

Ringing the bells  Fit your purse with little purse bells or ‘dipping bells’, which are designed to attach to a purse or handbag using either G-Clips or Crocodile clips. You can buy them for about £2 and their purpose is to alert the owner that their purse or handbag is being moved. They’re very useful for situations where there’s a heightened risk of handbag theft or dipping in places such as busy shops and cafés, street markets, other crowded places and on public transport.  You can certainly buy them on-line and you might be able to get some from your local Neighbourhood Watch. (My wife’s had bells on her purse and handbag for well over two years now and apart from their anti-theft qualities they also serve as an early warning device of her imminent arrival!) 

Live life normally Although there are many thousands of these sorts of incidents across the country every year your individual chances of becoming a victim are very small indeed.  So, don’t worry yourself, just keep ‘em peeled – you know it makes sense!   

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