The thefts are based on trickery. As the gendarmerie’s Facebook Page explains, a duo working together in a supermarket begins by spying on a older person buying a lot of shopping, and memorises their card PIN code number as they pay.
The duo then follows the shopper out to the car park. As the shopper begins to load their bags into the boot of their car, one of the thieves starts to brandish a large paper road map in front of their face, obscuring their vision under pretence of asking for directions.
In the meantime, their accomplice has already noticed where the shopper’s handbag or wallet is, and quickly steals it unseen, while the shopper is still distracted by the map.
The duo then thanks the shopper and leaves in a hurry, supposedly in the direction suggested, with the theft only noticed later.
In the meantime, the thieves will have likely used the stolen credit card in the bag or wallet already, to take out cash and make a series of expensive purchases.
A rise in such “road map thefts” has been reported across the country in recent weeks.
Gendarmerie in the Loire-Atlantique recently intercepted a man suspected of being the perpetrator in around 30 similar incidents, along with several accomplices.
The gendarmerie advise shoppers - especially older people, who have been among the most recent victims - to cover their PIN code with their other hand when paying in stores, and to be aware of where bags, valuables and credit cards are at all times (and preferably keep them with you).
Should anyone come up to you asking for directions or with an open road map, make sure you take hold of your handbag or wallet and keep your eye on it first, before helping them, and do not let them use your phone to look for directions either.
Sign up to our free weekly e-newsletter
Subscribe to access all our online articles and receive our printed monthly newspaper The Connexion at your home. News analysis, features and practical help for English-speakers in France