WATCH ABOVE: Distraction thefts are sweeping across the GTA and seniors are most at risk. Caryn Lieberman speaks exclusively with one woman who lost an irreplaceable keepsake to a brazen crime that is growing in popularity.
TORONTO —; An emotional Noula Aitas, clutching photographs of her late son and husband, wishes she hadn’t been so eager to help a stranger last week.
Aitas was the victim of a distraction theft just outside her home in the Danforth area, where the thieves stole something valuable and irreplaceable —; her son’s necklace, which she wore every day since his death.
“He passed away three and a half years ago and I wear it every day and I want it, it’s my son,” says Aitas. “I [would] prefer to break my finger [rather than for them to] take my cross.”
Aitas was sitting on her front porch on a sunny afternoon last week when a couple arrived in a car and gestured for her to come say hello.
She thought it was a friend in the backseat, but as she neared the vehicle, she realized she didn’t recognize the two.
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“She opened the door, and she started to cry, ‘Mama, mama, hospital, hospital,’ and I thought they wanted directions for the hospital,” said Aitas.
Little did she know, this was the exact tactic used in the latest rash of distraction thefts to sweep the GTA, according to police.
Aitas directed the couple to the nearest hospital, just blocks away, and as a thank you one of the suspects put costume jewelry around her neck and on her finger, which Aitas insisted was not necessary.
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Within five minutes, the couple was gone. That’s when Aitas noticed her precious necklace was too, leaving a fake chain in its place.
Aitas says her finger was also red and throbbing. When she looked down, she was wearing a fake gold ring and realized the suspect had tried to remove her engagement ring, which was stuck.
Police say Aitas is one of hundreds of victims of a growing crime phenomenon.
Sgt. Gary Olsen of the Community Response Unit in Toronto police’s 55 division says it’s happening way too frequently.
“By the actions of these individuals I would say this is a very organized type of situation and these people will be caught and they will be brought to justice,” he says.
It’s gotten so urgent, that both Crime Stoppers and Peel Regional Police put out re-eneactment videos to alert the public that these thefts are real and seniors are at risk.
“When you’re walking down the street in broad daylight you have this expectation that bad things are not going to happen,” Psychologist Dr. Oren Amitay says.
“The elderly are usually the ‘untouchables’ and to have that shattered it makes you feel vulnerable at all times.”
As for Aitas, she knows her son’s necklace is likely gone for good. But by sharing her story, she says she hopes she’s the last to lose something precious to such an ugly crime.
“I feel sorry if something happens to somebody else,” she says. “That’s why I tell everyone please be careful.”