Grocery shopping is a task most of us have to cross off our to-do list at least once a week. Depending on when you do your shopping, you may find yourself fighting the crowds to hunt for the ingredients you need to make meals or scouring the aisles for a home essential you've recently run low on. It can be a stressful and overwhelming environment, which makes it a challenge to focus on anything else. Unfortunately, criminals are likely to strike when our guards are down. Now, police have issued a new warning advising Americans to remain on high alert for a rising crime while grocery shopping. Read on to find out what you need to be on the lookout for.
Crime has been increasing inside of grocery stores.
From customers pulling out weapons to shoplifters attacking employees, there has been a significant rise of crime within grocery stores recently, The New York Times reported in June. Kim Cordova, a union president in Colorado who has worked 37 years in the grocery industry, told the newspaper that she has never experienced the level of violence that her union members are facing today.
"People have changed," said Cordova, who works for the United Food and Commercial Workers, noting that the shift happened during the COVID pandemic. "Sometimes I wonder if I am living in a Netflix movie. This can't be real."
The number of assaults in grocery stores has increased 63 percent from 2018 to 2020, according to a New York Times analysis of data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). And it's not just assault. Grocery stores and other retail spaces have also started ramping up security, changing store hours, and even closing locations altogether as a result of rising crime rates, particularly in terms of theft, according to PYMNTS.
Now, authorities in at least one area are warning grocery customers about one specific threat.
Police have a new alert about a rising crime.
On Sept. 19, authorities in Bethel Park, Pennsylvania took to Facebook to issue a crime watch alert to residents in the area. According to the Bethel Park Police Department (BBPD), there has been a recent increase in "distraction thefts" at grocery stores. The department said it had received three separate reports about these types of thefts that past weekend.
"Women leaving their purses open in their shopping carts are being targeted by organized groups," the BBPD wrote on Facebook. "These suspects work to distract the victim, while the other steals their wallet."
You likely won't notice your belongings have been stolen until later.
One of the issues that makes these distraction thefts so troubling is that people don't often realize they've become victims of the crime until it's too late. According to police in Bethel Park, many customers don't notice their wallet has been taken until the end of their shopping trip—which gives thieves plenty of time to do some real damage.
"By the time the victims reach the register and discover their wallet missing, the suspects have already used their credit cards at local stores to make thousands of dollars in purchases," the BPPD warned. "Please be aware of your surroundings and never leave your purse open and unattended! If you notice suspicious behavior, contact the police immediately."
People in other areas might also be at risk.
Bethel Park police officers attributed the three recent theft reports to one Walmart and two separate Giant Eagle grocery stores in the area, NBC-affiliate WPXI in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania reported. "In many of these cases, the suspects are female, with foreign accents, and wear hats and face masks to hide their appearance," the BBPD wrote on Facebook.
According to authorities in Bethel Park, this is not just a warning to residents in the area either. The BPPD warned that these organized groups using targeted distraction thefts "are often traveling from out-of-state and don't stick around long." So even if you don't live in Bethel Park, your area could be next on the criminals' path. In fact, other reports of grocery store-based distraction thefts have already recently been reported in California, Florida, and Connecticut.