Cook County Crime Stoppers warn of diversion thefts: 'It's quiet, it's quick'

As the temperature outside begins to rise, so does the chance your personal property will be stolen when you are out and about.

Dozens of cell phones, purses and backpacks are stolen literally behind your back in just seconds every year.

FOX 32's Sally Schulze takes a look at how we can protect ourselves from diversion theft.

As Chairman of Cook County Crime Stoppers, George McDade knows exactly how easily a thief can distract us and quickly walk off with our personal property. 

"When you stop to rest, to order something to eat and drink, just to sit and relax…I think that’s when you are vulnerable," said McDade.

And when the weather is nice, who doesn't want to sit down and relax outside?

"The purse on the back of the chair is one of the easiest ones," said McDade.

McDade says a thief and his team usually identify their target before they sit down.

"Maybe the bag you carry — maybe that you have a purse that's not sealed, it may have long straps," said McDade. "Once you sit down, what finalizes you as a target is how you put down your item."

McDade and his team of would-be-thieves showed us how quickly a purse on the back of a chair can disappear.

"It's just a slip of the arm, in the hand, and it's gone," said McDade. "It's quiet, it's quick."

All it takes is a little friendly conversation from a stranger to get you to turn your head.

"When I turn that piece of paper around, and it has writing on it – what are going to do? You’re going to focus now on the writing, so now your attention is drawn in to this narrow area," said McDade. "That may be the silent cue for whoever it is come up behind you, take your purse, take the cell phone, take the backpack — and they’re gone."

McDade says thieves use the same approach when trying to steal your cell phone or backpack.

Again, it all comes down to where you place your personal property when you sit down.


"If you put your cell phone down in front of you, in the center, im not gonna steal it because it's too hard, but if you put it to the left side or the right side — then that tells me the phone is there," said McDade. "I have to get you to turn your face away from the phone."

Same thing goes for a backpack. We often put them down on the ground just out of our direct line of site.

That’s why McDade says it's best to keep your items on the table in front of you. He also says you can keep your purse or backpack on the ground in between your feet.

"They’re watching you. You’ve already been targeted. You just don’t know it, and they’re coming to get ‘cha," said McDade.

If you find yourself a victim of a diversion theft, McDade says you need to report the theft to the police and your cell phone carrier.

When you report your cell phone or laptop as stolen, you also need to know the device’s electronic serial number because that will help police to possibly track it down quickly.