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Be wary of friendly hugs, police warn
Beware of friendly strangers offering you a hug – they might be picking your pocket.
That is the warning from Sussex Police after a spate of crimes in central Brighton last weekend.
Officers say men pretending to be drunk are warmly greet- ing people while expertly pinching their phone or wallet.
Three crimes were reported in Brighton last weekend, in West Street and the seafront. Sussex Police officers believe the method – which has been well-documented in London and overseas – is being used by an organised Eastern European theft gang.
PC Claire Horner, who is working on the anti-theft drive Operation Tea Leaf, said: “A man comes up, being friendly, hugging, in that night out atmosphere. It isn’t until afterwards that they realise something has gone missing.”
Officers are planning to give crime prevention messages to new students who arrive at the universities of Sussex and Brighton this month to stop them becoming victims.
Operation Tea Leaf was launched last year to respond to a rise in pick-pocketing and thefts from bags in shopping areas and in pubs and clubs.
Officers have searched people in nightclub queues at weekends, and plainclothes officers have patrolled for thieves.
Despite this, in the 12 months leading up to July this year the crimes were up more than a third across Sussex as a whole.
Problems have not been restricted to Brighton and Hove, with Lewes and other areas also affected.
When crime overall appeared to be on the rise earlier this year, the theft rate was said to be partly to blame.
PC Horner said some simple measures can have a big impact, with one central Brighton nightspot cutting thefts from eight or nine a night to two a weekend by advising customers how to avoid thefts.
A gang of Eastern Europeans who were cheating people with card and cup-and-ball tricks on Brighton seafront is believed to have moved on.
Several arrests were made last month with suspects banned from the city under their bail conditions. Anyone with information about thefts is asked to call Sussex Police on 101.