Teams of thieves target downtown drivers in cell phone thefts

An ABC7 Eyewitness News Exclusive
CHICAGO (WLS) -- Police are warning residents about thieves working in teams of two to distract drivers in downtown Chicago and then steal their cell phones from inside their cars.

Dashcam video recorded while a driver was stopped at a traffic light near Michigan and Wacker shows a young man appearing in front of the car. In a matter of seconds, he and a partner will have swiped the victim's cell phone.

"Annoyed, you know. I fell for it. I'm a pretty vigilant person. I'm always watching around my surroundings, especially in the downtown area," said T.J., the victim, who did not want to give his last name.

T.J. wanted the video he captured Tuesday with his windshield-mounted camera to serve as a warning to others. In the footage, instead of crossing the street the teen comes to the driver's side and knocks on the window.

"I look at him, but I didn't roll down my window. Next thing I know, the passenger door opens up and a small kid gets inside the car, like his head inside the car," T.J. said.

On the video you can hear T.J. objecting. In a flash, the teen on the passenger's side had grabbed the phone from its cradle. The light turns green and there's little T.J. can do but drive away.

"I was really in shock, like it happened. Like oh my god, I can't believe it happened to me," he said.

Police have been warning drivers about this type of crime since the summer. Video of a separate encounter, shared numerous times on Facebook, appears to show someone reaching into a taxi. There seems to be a struggle.

The camera captured a glimpse of that suspect's face, and he's familiar to T.J. He thinks it may be the same person who grabbed his phone from the passenger side.

"Always, always keep your doors locked. Keep your windows rolled up," he said.

Police said in many of these crimes, the suspects pretend to be handing out flyers. That's what happened to T.J. It only took that momentary distraction to give them enough time to take his phone.
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