Caught-on-Camera Distraction Theft in Corona Mirrors Yearslong String of Statewide Crimes

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A group of inconspicuous women who recently ganged up and stole a store owner’s purse in Corona seems remarkably similar to perpetrators in a string of crimes that have been reported in areas across Southern California within the last two years, at least.

One member of a group of four female distraction thieves grabs a store employee's purse in an Oct. 29, 2015, crime in Corona that was caught on surveillance video.

One member of a group of four female distraction thieves grabs a store employee's purse in an Oct. 29, 2015, crime in Corona that was caught on surveillance video.

The most recent incident occurred Oct. 29 at a store in a strip mall.

On Friday, KTLA obtained video of the robbery that showed four women entering the store, then milling around and looking at merchandise. While three of the women talk to two workers who are behind the counter, a fourth woman crouches down and grabs a red purse stowed in the back of the store. She puts the purse inside her larger bag, and the group soon leaves.

That incident is comparable to crimes reported in Bell, Huntington Beach, Palmdale, Orange and Buena Park. There have also been a string of similar incidents reported in areas south of Sacramento, including on Oct. 27 at a salon in Stockton.

One member of a group of four female distraction thieves grabs a store employee's purse in an Oct. 29, 2015, crime in Corona that was caught on surveillance video.

One member of a group of four female distraction thieves grabs a store employee's purse in an Oct. 29, 2015, crime in Corona that was caught on surveillance video.

In some incidents, there were two women. In others, four.

In March 2014, a string of robberies were reported at salons in Bell, where the robbers were posing as customers. Some of those crimes were caught on camera, as were incidents in ensuing months.

The Huntington Beach Police Department in May 2014 said six distraction thefts had been reported in previous few months at dry cleaners, nail salons and day spas.

“We believe an organized group of 4-5 Hispanic females is responsible for each incident,” police said in a Facebook post at the time. “In each case, the women take turns speaking with an employee who is typically alone or with a few customers. While the victim is distracted, one or more of the suspects will take the victims purse or products and flee.”

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An image released by Huntington Beach police shows one woman among a group of distraction thieves that struck in spring 2014.

Police encouraged businesses to "remain vigilant."

The women were described as “heavy set," ranging from their 20s to their 40s, and conversant in English and Spanish.

This year, on Jan. 24, a similar group walked into a Thai restaurant in Palmdale, asking to look at a menu. One of the women crawled behind the counter and grabbed an employee’s purse while two others stopped a waiter.

All four then left, apparently explaining they declined to eat at the restaurant, Jasmine Thai. The owner told KTLA they fled in an SUV.

In a surveillance video image, a group of four women approaches a Thai restaurant in Palmdale before a Jan. 24, 2015, theft.

In a surveillance video image, a group of four women approaches a Thai restaurant in Palmdale before a Jan. 24, 2015, theft.

Using the stolen cards, the women filled a vehicle with gas, had a $285 shopping spree at Wal-Mart, ate at McDonald’s and paid some bills, the owner said.

On March 16, at a dollar store in Orange, four similar-looking woman made off with the shop owner’s wife’s purse and a money bag containing sales proceeds, proprietor Henry Ford said.

That incident, at Dollar Deals in the 1800 block of North Tustin Street, was not caught on surveillance video.

“They come in and play interference, and then take your purses. They get you looking the other way, and then take your money from your register,” Ford told KTLA in March. “These people are professionals, and they are dangerous.”

Surveillance video showed two women enter a Buena Park shop before a distraction theft on Aug. 9, 2015.

Surveillance video showed two women enter a Buena Park shop before a distraction theft on Aug. 9, 2015.

In August, two women went into a Buena Park clothing boutique, with one woman asking the owner a question. The other woman grabbed merchandise and the owner’s Louis Vuitton purse, which contained her checkbook, wallet and keys to the store, her house and home.

The Corona theft was being investigated by police in that city, according to the owner of the targeted store.

The store did not want to be identified or have his business named.

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