The start of the new year brings some less-than-ideal circumstances to Washington County thanks to a rise in “distraction thefts” across the Southern Utah region. Another problem is that these thefts are allegedly due to out-of-state crime rings looking to make a quick buck.

During an interview with PIO Tiffany Mitchell of the St. George Police Department, Officer Mitchell warned residents of these types of thefts that take advantage of those looking to extend a helping hand to those in need.

Officer Mitchell said, “One of the things we’re seeing an uptick in is distraction thefts, which means that when people leave their purses, maybe in the top where the child sits in the cart. Oftentimes, they’re not zipped up.”

This is where a team of usually three thieves work together to steal the valuables contained inside said purse. One person is usually a female who distracts the victim while another person sneaks up and commits the theft, and one more accomplice is set as a lookout to make sure the coast is clear so the thief can make a clean getaway.

After they escape with the stolen money or valuables, they go to a nearby store and spend all of it on gift cards to use at their leisure.

Sounds like quite the system, doesn’t it? According to Officer Mitchell, these thieves are with an out-of-state crime ring that specializes in this kind of crime.

Officer Mitchell said, “We want to be helpful when we’re out and about and people ask for help but remember that it could be someone just trying to distract you so that your items can be stolen.”

To prevent these types of thefts, and to discourage this crime ring from continuing to do business in Southern Utah, Officer Mitchell said we need to be more vigilant when it comes to carrying our valuables out in public.

If you’re going to the store, maybe just take your driver's license and debit card so the thieves won’t have a big target to steal from. Officer Mitchell said this crime is less likely to happen if the shopper just keeps their possessions on their person instead of the top of a shopping cart.

These criminals believe Southern Utah is an easy target, and to personnel from the SGPD like Officer Mitchell, it’s unacceptable.

Unfortunately, it’s not just one crime ring that’s targeting Southern Utah. Officer Mitchell also confirmed the five reported robbers who stole from a Wells Fargo ATM on South River Road in December were also from an out-of-state crime ring.

The solution is simple, show resolve in handling your valuables, and these crime rings will cease to operate in Southern Utah. It’s fine to extend a helping hand to a stranger in need but do so with a wary hand clutched to your wallet.

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