A CHARITY worker is warning Whitby shopkeepers to be vigilant after he stepped in to protect a shop he believed was about to be targeted by a gang of thieves.
Rod Jones is co-founder of Convoy Aid Romania, which helps orphaned children in the eastern European country, and was in Bona Tom on Skinner Street when a familiar scene began to play out in front of him.
Mr Jones explained what he saw: “There was a little old lady behind the till, very vulnerable.
“Two children walked into the shop and they were followed by a woman, and I knew they were Romanian gypsies.
“She took out of her bag a very big gold ring and her intention was to get the shopkeeper’s attention while the children ran into the other rooms to see what they could grab - they use children because they know they can’t be arrested.”
After 22 years’ voluntary work in Romania, Rod instantly recognised the ladies’ origin, and was able to talk to her in her native tongue.
He added: “They are very easy to see because the women insist on wearing flowing dresses.
“I spoke to the woman in Romanian and said ‘look, the lady isn’t interest in your gold, just go’.
“It looked to me as if they were working Whitby and if I hadn’t been there she would have been a serious target.”
Fiona Clewlow, owner of Bona Tom, was in the store at the time and said: “Rod told me there was a lot of people doing these scams, and what to watch out for such as women with large bags, children running around.
“The woman came in with a large ring and asked if we bought gold.
“We are very aware here and I never buy gold from anyone I don’t recognise, it was just so dodgy.”
Mr Jones explained that thieves, such as those he believed were in Whitby on that day, were very professional in their approach and would travel round all the stores, looking for easy marks, which they would spread the word about to their community.
A police spokesman said: “We are aware of organised crime gangs operating across North Yorkshire, targeting retail outlets and their customers.
“They often live outside the county and travel into the area specifically to commit this type of offence.
“Although there are only a very few cases of shoplifting reported to the police, we urge shop owners not to be complacent and to be aware of people acting in a suspicious manner in their stores.
“Shoppers also need to be vigilant and to be aware of their possessions, as the opportunist theft of purses and handbags takes only moments to happen and the thieves will have left the scene before the victims realises they have lost their property.
“If you see anyone committing such a crime or know of anyone involved with this type of theft to contact the police immediately.”