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Shoppers and drinkers are being warned not to leave mobile phones and other valuables on tables in town centres after a series of distraction thefts.
Kent Police is investigating three incidents in Maidstone and Tonbridge where an iPhone 5, worth hundreds of pounds, has been left on show in a coffee shop or bar and then snatched while the owner was distracted. In each case at least one man has approached the table and reportedly confused or caught the attention of the owner with a leaflet or newspaper. The phone is then removed from underneath the leaflet either by the man, or by an accomplice while the owner's back is turned.
Kent Police's Acting Superintendent for West Division, Jon Kirby said: "You may feel you have your eye on your valuables when they are on a table in front of you but it takes seconds to be distracted and for a thief to strike. These offenders are evidently deliberately using a leaflet to get the owner of the phone's attention.
"We have also had reports of the offender or offenders speaking to the victim in a foreign language which of course will further confuse them and offer an accomplice a few additional seconds to remove the phone."
One incident happened at Costa in King Street in Maidstone on 10 August at 2:45pm. A 20 year-old woman told police she had been approached by a muscular Turkish-looking man with dark skin, around 6ft tall with short black hair. She said he was wearing a white T-shirt and blue jeans and had placed a leaflet on the table over her phone, which he then left with.
A second incident was reported by a 30 year-old woman who told police her phone was stolen while she was at The Humphrey Bean pub in Tonbridge High Street at 2:10pm on 19 August. She described two Arabic-looking men with black hair, around 5ft 7ins tall who asked her about a newspaper shortly before she realised her phone was missing.
Then, at Pret-a-Manger in Fremlin Walk, Maidstone on 20 August at 12:45pm, a 43 year-old woman?s phone was reportedly taken by three dark-skinned men with leaflets, all around 5ft 9ins tall and in their mid-20s. Officers were told one of the men had gold rimmed sunglasses hanging to the back of his head.
Acting Superintendent Kirby added: "If you are approached by someone who you suspect may be trying to distract or confuse you, don?t be afraid to first check your valuables are secure before considering whether you wish to engage them in conversation.
"It takes seconds for a thief to strike but it also only takes seconds to protect your property. Never leave valuables unattended, even for few moments. Keep your belongings tucked away safely in a zipped pocket or bag and use a purse chain if you have one.
"Don't advertise your phone to thieves by leaving it on display, and consider mobile phone tracking. If you have a smartphone you can install an app that helps you trace your device if it gets lost or stolen. Contact your service provider for details on what's available."
You can see a video highlighting the dangers of distraction theft here: