More than a dozen suspects have been arrested — and many more are sought — in connection with what San Diego police said Tuesday was a jewelry theft ring that targeted vulnerable people across the region and led to losses estimated in the millions of dollars.
Police said investigators suspected they knew of “only a very small percentage” of thefts, and they asked victims to come forward. They said thieves would approach potential victims, pretend to be in distress, then distract them and swipe the jewelry.
“Detectives discovered thieves targeted specific communities where elderly and people of Asian descent live and shop,” police said in a news release.
Police said thieves usually approached a victim in a parking lot or on the street, asked for directions or said they needed help, often saying they were from Dubai and needed help getting back home.
San Diego police said they started seeing a countywide rash of such cases starting in 2021.
Last week, the District Attorney’s Office that since the start of 2021, local law enforcement agencies have fielded more than 75 reports of similar incidents throughout the county. Often, the encounters happen in parking lots and disproportionately targeted older and Asian victims in Mira Mesa and National City, the office said.
San Diego police said that among those arrested were three people from Romania, one of whom was arrested in Texas and brought back to California. He was booked into jail in San Diego on Jan. 10.
The other two were a married couple who police said left the country in 2022, but were arrested when they tried to re-enter the US through Mexico using false identities on Jan. 4.
Last week, prosecutors announced they had secured guilty pleasures from a different married couple who were part of a theft ring that used similar techniques. The husband in that couple shared the same last name with the man was arrested in Texas and extradited to San Diego, but it was immediately unclear whether they were related.
The police released photos of 12 people they had arrested and another 31 they had identified as suspects.
The police asked that anyone with information about the thefts or the suspects call the department’s Economic Crimes Unit at (619) 446-1036. Anonymous tips can be left by calling Crime Stoppers at (888) 580-8477.