WATCH: Swift-fingered pickpockets target women in North Coast shopping centres

Quick-acting pickpockets working in teams are operating at shopping malls, preying on unsuspecting women.

Ballito resident, Trudy Mason told the Courier her daughter, visiting from Johannesburg, fell victim to this on Sunday, 18 October, having her new mobile phone stolen out of her bag.

Mason shared CCTV footage of the thief caught red-handed and cautioned other women to remain vigilant.

“My daughter was targeted from the time we were at The Market.

Security footage spotted the women following us from a distance, right until we entered the Spar supermarket.

My daughter was pushing a pram and her bag was tucked over her shoulder, with her attention invested in shopping and her baby in the pram,” said Mason.

In the footage the female pickpocket is seen cautiously approaching her victim at the aisle and parks her trolley nearby. She reaches over pretending to take a carton of almond milk off the shelf, bringing her within arm’s reach of her victims bag.

At the most opportune moment, she pulls out the woman’s mobile from the front of her bag and hides it between her grocery items before walking away without being detected.

“My daughter is devastated. She had recent photos and videos of my granddaughter, from her birth to her first treasured moments which she cannot ever replace. It was a new phone, valued at R17 000, and was not insured and she had not backed up her photos so it’s a big loss for her.”

According to Manson, centre security told them the thief appeared to be part of a gang of three women.

“When watching the footage she appears to be a seasoned thief, operating in shops where people are more likely to be distracted, paying less attention to their belongings, making them an easier target.

“We tried to report the incident to the police straight away and called Umhlali Saps four times but we were told they were busy and only had one vehicle available.”

The theft comes amid a flurry of similar petty theft cases reported by residents.

In a separate case Ballito resident Angela Bissett describes how on Sunday while shopping at Pick n Pay in Ballito Junction a man approached her from behind while she was looking in a freezer.

“I realised someone was too close and spun around and he walked away.

The one zip on my bag was opened. Then a little while later he came again when I was at the deli counter but fortunately for me my husband had joined me so I told him that’s the guy.

My husband followed him while I called security.”

Ballito resident Sally Friedman said she too was targeted by a gang of brazen women using the same modus operandi. 

“Last Saturday at about 2pm while shopping at Lifestyle Spar two well dressed ladies using their shopping trolley tried to push me into a corner at the first vegetable counter.

I became suspicious and quickly realised what was happening when I looked down and saw a third lady had her hand in my handbag which was across my body.

I shouted for the security and the two disappeared very quickly. The third one lingered for a while then abandoned her trolley and walked out the shop.

The security saw them get into a car and drive off.”

Pick n Pay Ballito owner, Michael Lafferty said the recent incidents had alarmed a lot of people and their concerns were warranted and understood.

“In the course of this year our store has had 10 incidents of shoplifting and 2 incidents where shoppers were targeted using the bump trick.

Of the about 200 000 customers who visit the store each month this equates to a 0.1% incident rate of petty crime.”

Lafferty said significant security measures in the store had attributed to the low crime rate.

“To ensure the safety of our shoppers we have 60 cameras throughout the store, at every aisle, mid-aisle, front and back, corners and in the service areas.

We also have security on foot and undercover who patrol the store and security in the control room monitoring the cameras full time.

Every shopper who enters the store is also recorded on a wide angle camera, walks past a security officer and our customer service area is never without a manager.

If there is an incident we can check the time and recording and help identify the culprit.

It is advisable that cases are reported to the police and we can assist them with footage.”

Lafferty said this had resulted in a few successful prosecutions.

“Pickpocket gangs have been around for a long time, targeting shoppers at opportune times which fall on the busy peak shopping times so we understand the importance of security to ensure the safety of our shoppers.”

Saps spokesperson Vinny Pillay said busy shopping centres were ideal for pickpockets, as it was easier for them to brush past people, take items and blend into the crowd.

“Pickpockets are very skilled at what they do. They know all the tricks and are extremely light-fingered with most of their thefts only taking a second or two.

Women are also advised to carry their bags in front of them or diagonally across their chest.”

He said pickpockets may work in teams to distract the target.

“Having a zipped bag does not mean you are safe. Thieves have been known to walk behind victims while slowly unzipping bags. Yes, they can be that bold. So, never underestimate a pickpocket,” said Pillay.

On the issue of police officers not responding to the incident Captain Pillay said the matter would be investigated.