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Soho Bag Stealing Warning

Summary:
Email forward claims an attacker is stealing handbags in the Soho area of London then arranging to meet the victim, ostensibly to hand back the bag. According to the email, he uses this meeting to "vet" potential victims and may subsequently use house keys copied from those in the bag to access the victim's house and rape her (Full commentary below).



Status:
Unsubstantiated

Example:(Submitted, February 2006)
Please be aware of this

I don't normally send out this sort of thing as I don't like to scare monger, but it's legit and everyone knows just how easily our bags get nicked - so warn your female friends, sick minds are at work.

BEWARE

My colleague had her bag nicked last Wednesday from Pop bar in Soho.

Complete pain but she cancelled her cards and reported it to the police that night. The next day she got a call from a guy calling himself Daniel who explained that he had found her bag in the gentleman's toilets in Pop Bar the night before, he said he didn't want to hand it in the bar staff as he was a DJ and new what bar staff are like (???). So he said he worked in a recording studio in Whitechapel and asked if she be able to go and meet him at the tube station to pick it up that day. He gave her some excuse about going away for business and being unable to meet her any other time.

She's a sensible lass and decided to take a friend with her and meet the man. When she got to Whitechapel tube she told the station guard the story and he positioned her in full view of the 2 CCTV camera's and promised to keep an eye on her. So Daniel turns up with her handbag empty except for her keys and some make up. She thanked Daniel, the good Samaritan, and he give her his business card and she returned to work.

When she got back she called the police and told them she'd got her bag back. The police then turned up at the office and had a chat with her about the man she had met. The police were investigating this man as 3 other bags were reported stolen, in the Soho area, and then returned to the owner in the same manner.

All 3 other bag owners were raped, 1 in Whitechapel and 2 in their own homes after the thief had gotten the victims address and keys, made a copy of the keys, then called the victim stating he had found the bag and then meeting them and vetting them before committing his terrible crime. The web site & business card turned out to be fake and the mobile number was registered to a fake name. Needless to say my colleague has now changed her locks. So be weary about what you keep in your handbag and purse!

Such an elaborate scam that scared the bejesus out of me.




Commentary:
I have been unable to verify if the elaborate scam outlined in this rather dubious "warning" message has ever actually occurred. So far, I have found no credible references that back-up the claims in the message. After extensive research, I have not located any news reports about crimes like the one described happening in London or elsewhere. Stories of such a cunning and devious serial rapist would make for compelling news-fodder and, if true, the mainstream media would have almost certainly picked up on the issue. There is also no warnings or information about these alleged crimes listed on London's Metropolitan Police website or other London police sites.

The criminal activity described in the email is not exactly implausible. Such a crime could happen. Criminals can and do use quite elaborate methods to lure and entrap potential victims and this may very well include some sort of "Good Samaritan" style ruse.

However, it seems improbable that a rapist would go to such lengths just to "vet" his potential victim. By using the modus operandi described in the message, the rapist would be significantly increasing his risk of discovery and arrest. The message would have us believe that he openly meets his future rape victims in public places, thus increasing the number of people who could later identify him as well as the chances that his meeting will be captured on security video. Also, by giving back the handbag and tendering a business card he is supplying potential forensic evidence directly to his victim and this evidence could later be used against him. It seems quite unlikely that a criminal would take such unnecessary risks when there were other "safer" ways for him to accomplish his nefarious aims. Surely, from the rapist's point of view, it would be much easier and safer for him to clandestinely evaluate potential victims while they were still carrying their handbags and then steal particular bags based on his final choices.

Given that the lass described in the message was suspicious enough to take a friend with her and alert a security guard at the tube station, one wonders why she did not inform police before the meeting rather than after. Also, since police were already aware that a rapist was using this bag return ruse in that particular area, it seems quite negligent on their part that they did not warn her of the possible danger at the time she reported her bag stolen.

There are many unsubstantiated or anecdotal cautionary tales of this nature that travel via email. Of course, there is often a core of wisdom underlying the somewhat fanciful tales transcribed in such messages. This particular warning message is a case in point. We probably should pay more attention to how much personal information we keep together in handbags and wallets. Certainly, we should remain continually vigilant to avoid having such items stolen in the first place. And of course, we should always remember that an apparent Good Samaritan might well have other, more sinister, agendas.

However, given that there does not appear to be any collaborating evidence to back up the specific claims in the email, I would suggest that recipients think twice before forwarding it. Spreading false or misleading information is unlikely to be helpful. Such warnings do nothing more than add unnecessarily to the climate of fear and alarm that often characterizes modern society.

Also, a real problem with forwarding such "warning" emails is that they tend to mutate over time. Even if an original version of the message did contain some factual information, this information can soon become corrupted and diffused as core facets of the message are altered or exaggerated and regional settings are changed during the course of thousands of subsequent forwardings.

Write-up by Brett M.Christensen