By Aramis Khosronejad
An alarming larceny trend is rising in Suffolk County as thieves swipe wallets and credit cards from shopping carts at retail stores.
Between May and August 2023, Suffolk County Police Department 4th Precinct Inspector David Regina commented on the countywide increase in larcenies during the Smithtown Town Board’s meeting on Aug. 8. He attributed the spike to thefts from shopping carts.
The inspector described how offenders usually only take the victims’ wallets or even credit cards. Regina maintained that this leads to a dangerous problem and quandary for law enforcement: Victims are not immediately aware they’ve been robbed.
“What they’ll do is they’ll just take out the credit cards or the wallet,” Regina told the Town Board, “The victims will not know [because] it’s not like the whole bag is gone.”
When the victims discover they no longer have their cards or wallet, the suspect has already used their cards numerous times, racking up a substantial balance.
After using the credit cards, suspects will discard the cards, making it a “very hard crime to target,” according to Regina.
“There are many people that go for these opportunities,” he said. “This has been a significant portion of our larcenies.”
As of now, SCPD is still investigating six larcenies of this variety. These thefts were reported and occurred between March and August of 2023. In addition, the department has alerted all shoppers not to leave their bags in their shopping carts unattended to avoid becoming victims of these thefts.
‘Overwhelmingly, they get away with it.’
— David Shapiro
In a phone interview, David Shapiro, a distinguished professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, offered how the thieves identify their target victims.
“The victims are usually vulnerable,” he said, adding that victims are “usually unaccompanied” and, in most cases, “there’s no guardian there.”
Shapiro noted the ease with which these crimes are carried out, describing it as a “low-tech” offense and “a crime of opportunity.” Another incentive for the offenders to choose these kinds of scenarios is the low clearance rate, according to Shapiro.
“In other words,” he stated, “Overwhelmingly, they get away with it.”
According to the Suffolk County Police Department’s public information office, in all of the ongoing larceny investigations of this kind between March to August 2023, the perpetrators have attempted to use the victims’ credit cards.
Shapiro emphasized how profitable stolen wallets have become for thieves due to the factor of credit cards.
Shapiro commented that these crimes provide perpetrators with “some time to exploit the vulnerability of the online system, where you can spend rather quickly,” he added.
Other than the apparent financial threat of larcenies, another arguably more dangerous factor comes into play with stolen wallets and cards: identity theft.
Shapiro remarked on the possible threat of it, pointing out that in today’s time, “You have a lot of personal identifying information that is separately valuable apart from the currency,” he said, adding that all this personal information inside wallets holds a “value that may exceed the actual currency.”