Thieves steal cells, purses from al fresco diners at downtown restaurants

June 14, 2012 (CHICAGO)

Officials released a community alert after several thefts were reported at downtown restaurants. In the last week, at least three cell phones have been taken off outside tables.

In the incidents, two of which happened on West Adams, as many as four young men divert the diner's attention by asking for a charitable donation. Then, one of them slips paper over the cell phones and takes off with it.

"They can simply run up to a table, maybe grab the cell phone, grab a purse and simply run off rather than have to deal with an inside crowd," Sgt. Joe Petrenko said.

The third incident took place on June 8 in the 600 block of North State.

The men, who were caught by surveillance cameras in some cases, are described as 16-20 years old.

Police say it's an old scam, but what's new is how oblivious victims seem to be because many people put their phones on the table while sitting down for lunch or dinner downtown, making them an open target.

"We are in downtown Chicago anything can happen so we always want to people to take as much precaution as possible," Mark Graham, of the restaurant Quartino, said.

But most diners don't seem too concerned by the alert.

"I trust a lot in people. I just trust in the goodness of people, yeah," Jane Kim said.

"I think everyone has a cell phone, so everyone is a target," Alex Whaley said.

But Sue Lamie, of South Bend, Ind., doesn't think she's a target. Why?

"Because it is 100 years old," she said of her cell phone.

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