Elderly women pull off hat tricks at banks, shops

Police suspect a group of women wearing hats are stealing purses, then using the checks and credit cards.

Police suspect a group of women wearing hats are stealing purses, then using the checks and credit cards. / Sterling Heights Police

Police would like to find out where a group of middle-aged and elderly women dubbed the Mad Hatters are hanging those hats.

The women are suspected of stealing women’s wallets or purses, then using the stolen credit cards at area retailers for merchandise or stolen checks at financial institutions for cash across Macomb, Wayne, Oakland and Livingston counties.

One bank has been victimized for between $200,000 and $500,000, said Sterling Heights police Lt. Luke Riley. Police declined to identify the financial institutions.

“They’re not your typical suspect for things like this. They’re generally not your typical suspect for any type of crime,” Riley said.

Sterling Heights police released photos Thursday from the security cameras seeking to identify the women, Riley said.

Police said it’s difficult to tie all the incidents together with the multiple jurisdictions and victims, but it is believed the incidents began about a year ago, with the most recent one last week.

The thefts usually occurred when a purse or wallet was left unguarded in a shopping cart or stroller. When the owner was distracted, they grabbed it and quickly used the credit cards before the theft was reported, Riley said. The women wore blue, black or white hats, and in a few cases are smiling, according to surveillance photos.

The photos show that the person responsible for the theft is not always the one who uses the stolen items to commit the fraud, police said.

The fact that the suspects are older women could be an advantage in a crime spree, Riley said. Banks and stores “may be a little more inclined to give them a little more leeway.”


http://www.freep.com/article/20110506/NEWS05/105060373

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