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Newport Beach woman loses gold necklaces to distraction thief while at her home

A victim of jewelry swap scam holds counterfeit necklaces and ring given to her by a thief.
A victim of jewelry swap scam holds counterfeit necklaces and ring given to her by a thief while at her home in Bayside Village Newport Beach.
(Susan Hoffman)
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A Newport Beach woman recently had jewelry stolen from around her neck in a distraction theft that unfolded while she was standing on her own doorstep.

In the nearly 30 years she has lived in the city’s Bayside Village neighborhood, the crime that took place in mid-October was the first time her security has been threatened, said Elaine, who asked that her last name be kept private out of safety concerns.

“I had just gotten home from the market and I was standing in my kitchen putting vegetables away when a woman I didn’t know saw me through the window and came up on my steps and asked for directions to the freeway,” Elaine recalled. “When I told her how to get to the freeway, she said she couldn’t hear me and asked me to come to my door. I did.”

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According to Elaine, the woman was wearing a headscarf, a long-sleeved blouse and long skirt.

“She had light skin, freckles, hazel eyes and brown, thin, lined eyebrows. She said she was from Dubai and spoke good English with an accent,” Elaine said.

As Elaine repeated the directions to the freeway the woman became chummy, stepping closer and asking the 81-year-old her age and then claiming that it was her own 45th birthday.

“She thanked me, hugged me and said she wanted to give me a gift,” said Elaine, who felt some bulk under the woman’s clothes during the hug. “She reached into her pocket pulled out a handful of jewelry and proceeded to separately hook two of her gold chains around my neck [while] at the same time undoing two of mine. She went to my hand and slipped a ring on my finger.

“It happened so fast, she had me thrown off balance mentally.”

Costume jewelry was used to scam a victim at her home in Newport Beach.
(Susan Hoffman)

A few minutes later, a man drove up in a late model gray mid-size SUV, parked in front of the house, apparently waiting for her uninvited visitor.

The woman asked for water. By then, Elaine had become suspicious and replied she didn’t have any bottled water. The man then signaled to the woman, who hopped in the back seat of the SUV and they drove off.

“I turned and felt my neck and my gold necklace was gone,” said Elaine, who knew something was off but felt overwhelmed by then. “She had tried to get my rings and to see if I had bracelets, there was a lot of fumbling, moving around and she kept me busy with the constant talking.”

Since Elaine had been wearing three gold necklaces, she believes the woman was after the third when she tried to further distract by asking for water.

Elaine wondered if she had been followed to her home from Westcliff Plaza shopping center or if the criminals had been trolling the neighborhood looking for victims both inside and outside their homes.

She called 911 and filed a police report. She also reported the incident to the Bayside Village office manager, who drove around the mobile home park but was unable to spot the couple.

A welcome sign at the entrance of Bayside Village Mobile Home Park in Newport Beach.
A welcome sign at the entrance of Bayside Village Mobile Home Park in Newport Beach where a jewelry swap scam occurred last month.
(Susan Hoffman)

It was two to three weeks later when Elaine was allowed to view the surveillance tape from the lone camera attached to the Bayside Village entrance. She was disappointed to see there was no sign of the suspects’ vehicle.

Bayside Village management declined to comment for this story, but a Newport Beach Police Department spokesman confirmed Elaine had notified law enforcement authorities of the incident.

”A police report was taken for grand theft, and it was investigated,” Sgt. Steve Oberon wrote in an email. “We have had distraction thefts in parking lots and shopping centers, but I am not aware of any others at a residence.”

An Irvine police spokesperson said 39 similar crimes have been reported in that city this year alone, with nine of them taking place since June.

”There’s no special area [where the thefts occur]; the scammers drive around and look for victims, walking in shopping centers or walking in residential neighborhoods and approach older adults if they’re wearing jewelry,” said Sgt. Karie Davies of the Irvine Police Department. “They drive rental cars, which is why we are unable to track them down. One woman was in her frontyard when the thieves drove to the curb and when she came to the [car’s] window they took off her jewelry.”

Weeks later, Elaine remains disturbed by having fallen victim to the sleight-of-hand tricks the thief employed.

“All this stealing makes me mad,” she said. “I’m mostly annoyed at myself because I know better, even though the predators made me feel off guard.”

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