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City of London Police warn of distraction thefts after recent rise in Square Mile

Reports of distraction thefts have increased since October 2018, spiking in January 2019
Thieves distract victims, then use paper to cover phones or wallets and take them
Tactics deployed by police to tackle thefts leads to 36% decrease in February 2019
Woman jailed in February 2019 for distraction theft in a City coffee shop

The City of London Police is warning people to be wary of their personal belongings when visiting cafes and coffee shops in the City, after the recent emergence of criminals using distraction techniques to steal items such as mobile phones and wallets.

These distraction thefts started to rise in the City in October 2018, with eight recorded incidents. There was a spike in January 2019 with 28, more than double the number of incidents in both November 2018 (12) and December 2018 (12).

Analysis of the figures indicate that the criminals are mostly targeting coffee shops, but also restaurants and licenced premises in the Square Mile. They’re most likely to strike on Fridays and Saturdays, at lunchtimes and early evening.

CCTV released today shows how these criminals typically carry out the theft. They initially distract the victim by asking them for directions or begging for money and placing a written note on their table, before lifting items such as mobile phones and wallets.


In response to the spike of thefts in January, the City of London Police deployed specific tactics to target these criminals, including deployment of plain clothes officers and frequent patrols at the known hotspots. Community officers also have and continue to engage with businesses and customers in the City to inform them about distraction thefts.

In February 2019, the number of incidents fell by 36% to 18. In the same month, Magdalena Stanescu, 38, of no fixed address, was arrested after she engaged a victim in conversation at a coffee shop in the City before dropping her scarf on the table. When she lifted her scarf, she also took the victim’s phone. Three days after being arrested, she was sentenced at City of London Magistrates Court to eight weeks in jail.

There are also things people can do to help protect themselves from these criminals, and the City of London Police is advising everyone, no matter where they are in the City, to:

- Keep an eye on your belongings at all times.
- Never leave your bags or other valuables unattended in public places.
- Be discreet with your belongings; displaying expensive items, like mobile phones, could attract unwanted attention.
- Keep mobile phones out of view, in your pocket or bag, not on top of the table where you are sat.

For more advice on protecting your belongings, visit our website.

Detective Inspector Mark Forster of the City of London Police’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID), said:

“Despite our efforts to help reduce the number of distraction thefts in the City in February 2019, people still need to remain alert and vigilant. It is much easier to lift a small item from a table without the owner realising, such as a mobile phone, than it is to steal a whole bag.  

“Stanescu’s jail sentence shows that we have zero tolerance towards theft in the City and we will do everything in our power to bring those responsible to justice.

“If you do fall victim to this type of crime or see any suspicious activity, you should report it to a member of staff or call the police on 101.”

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