Police: Blue Ash citizens fall victim to identity theft, thieves targeting public places

BLUE ASH, OH (FOX19) - Blue Ash Police say a string of thefts in their community has left citizens victim of identity theft. The ID theft is turning up in cities like Indianapolis and Chicago.

For at least a year, police say thieves have heavily targeted public places in Blue Ash, including Panera Bread, Kroger, local golf courses and bowling alleys. Expensive cell phones, credit cards, and wallets are the most common things taken.

Now, police say they are seeing stolen credit cards show up in other states as thieve try to use the cards.

The Panera Bread store in Blue Ash, for example, has been hit at least four times in the last few months by ID thieves. 

"People will go there for lunch. They'll spend a lot of time in the restaurant not paying attention to the purse they hung on their seat. Thieves know this. They use this as an opportunity to get close, steal the contents - which is usually your wallet, ID, credit cards. They'll immediately go out and use that stuff for their purposes," said Paul Hartinger, chief of the Blue Ash Police Department.

One of the victims is Christopher Nadel. He lost his cell phone during a theft at Panera Bread back in January 2013. Nadel says he can't believe that his theft would be connected to a more extensive identity theft problem.

Since then, the Panera Bread has been targeted by thieves at least three more times.

"We were meeting there and we went to go use the bathroom. When I came back, the phone was missing. I just thought I packed everything up. I didn't even realize the phone was missing," says Nadel. "I was upset, yeah, especially about losing a $500 phone."

It's only gotten worse since the beginning of the year. Blue Ash police have taken five reports of wallets and purse theft, and they say it's a spike. Credit cards stolen in some of these cases have shown up in other cities where police say thieves have tried to use them. While police don't see it as one large theft ring, they do say all the cases share uncanny similarities. Police did say the identity theft issue alarms them.

"In a couple of cases, people have left purses and things inside their vehicles. It's real easy for thieves to just break a window, get in and take the purse. So the message really is that we really want to tell people, don't leave stuff available, and don't give thieves an opportunity," says Hartinger.

Hartinger says his department wants people to be more aware of their surroundings, keep their belongings close by, and be aware at all times.

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