A Vancouver man is seeking a necklace with significant sentimental value and warning others to be vigilant after his mother was targeted in a distraction theft in the family's front yard.
Last week, on Tuesday, July 20, Bernie Lee's mom was working in her garden when a black SUV driven by a man pulled up. A woman got out of the passenger seat and approached Lee's mom.
"She was really friendly to my mom. She walked closer and closer to my mom and my mom thought that was odd," Lee tells Vancouver Is Awesome.
As she approached, the woman asked for directions; Lee's mom, who doesn't speak English very well, said she wasn't able to help but the woman continued to approach.
Eventually, the woman got quite close, Lee says. She shook and kissed his mother's hand and told her it was her (the woman's) birthday and started giving fake jewelry to Lee's mom.
"She put the ring on my mom's finger," he says. "My mom was wondering why."
It's during this up-close interaction that the necklace disappeared. Lee believes the woman used sleight-of-hand tricks to remove it without being noticed.
The woman quickly left, he says, getting into the back seat of the still-running SUV. The whole incident was maybe five minutes, he adds.
"It wasn't until the evening that she noticed [the missing jewelry]," he says. "She was about to take a shower and she realized her necklace was gone."
The missing necklace has an important, personal history for Lee's mom.
She bought the 24-karat gold necklace in the mid-'50s as a present for herself. At the time, she was a young woman living in Hong Kong and had just landed her first job. The expensive purchase, which contains a heart-shaped jade pendant, required a bit of saving up.
She's worn the necklace ever since and it's become irreplaceable. Over time, the jade has become more green, Lee says. It's said this happens as a greater connection is made between the person and the gemstone. Stolen jade is also said to be cursed.
At first, she thought she had dropped it and called her granddaughters to help find it. She then remembered the woman earlier in the day. Luckily, a couple of neighbours have cameras. Lee says they were able to see the SUV and the woman on the footage but there wasn't enough detail for licence plates.
Since the theft, Lee's mom has been distraught, her son says.
The theft has been reported to Vancouver police, who have launched an education campaign about distraction thefts. They've been on the rise this year, with 52 distraction thefts reported in 2020. There have already been 54 reports in 2021.
The description of what happened with Lee's mom matches the pattern police have described, and Lee believes it's part of the same series of crimes.
The woman is described as South Asian. Lee says she was taller and wearing a headscarf that helped cover her face from the cameras. She was also quite calm, he notes, and seemed comfortable with what she was doing. He was shocked at how close the woman got to his mom, given the ongoing pandemic.
The thefts are also commonly associated with an SUV. Lee says in the security footage from neighbours, the SUV was seen passing in front of the home three times before it stopped near his mother as she gardened.
The theft also occurred in southeast Vancouver, according to police, the most common location for distraction thefts. The thieves typically target people of colour and the elderly, police say. Lee notes that while his mom is 82 she's still very alert and hasn't had any major medical issues.
"If it can happen to my mom, it can happen to any senior," he tells Vancouver Is Awesome.
The fake jewelry was left with his mom, and he's hopeful others will see it, recognize it and not fall for the same scam. He's sharing photos (see above) of the ring and necklace left behind.
Lee says the necklace can be returned, no questions asked. He can be reached via Vancouver Is Awesome.