“I thought I was helping him,” recalls 93-year-old Preston Hollow resident Curtis Mitchell of the man who approached her while she shopped at the Albertson’s on Northwest Highway and Midway.

The thin black man looked to be in his 40s. He told Mitchell he had high blood pressure and bad eyesight, and asked her to read the nutritional information on a package of lunch meat.

“He wanted to see how much fat and salt was in it. And I was reading it to him,” she recalls. “It happened right that minute. The second he walked away, I knew what happened.”

She says the man had taken her wallet out of her open purse and disappeared.

Deputy Police Chief David Elliston says although he hadn’t heard of this particular scam in which the victim is asked to read a product label, he has seen similar tactics used at various grocery stores in the area.

“They used all kinds of schemes – just anything to distract you,” he warns. “The best thing to do is be careful when a stranger approaches you.”

One scam involves asking the victim to retrieve an item from a high shelf. Another starts by requesting that the victim retrieve an item on a shelf blocked by the victim’s cart.

“They’re asking you to do something to get you to turn your back, like asking you to hand them something on the other side of your cart.”

Elliston notes that store personnel are available to answer customer questions and assist with hard to reach items.

“Usually a person would ask a store clerk. That’s a huge red flag.”

Mitchell says the betrayal is even worse because the suspect used her good intentions against her. She feels she was taken advantage of because she felt sorry for what she thought was a fellow shopper.

“I thought I was helping him. You just can’t be nice to anyone anymore.”

Even worse, this is the second time her wallet has been lifted at that Albertson’s in three years, and since then she has met other women at the store with similar stories.

Deputy Chief Elliston offers a strategy for those who can’t help being good Samaritans: Take some precautions to avoid being a victim. He suggests that women tuck their purse under their arm while assisting strangers. Not only will that keep the contents of the purse safe, but such posturing also lets would-be criminals know that you are in a heightened state of awareness.

Mitchell has some advice of her own.

“Have it zipped up.”

Luckily for Mitchell, the theft has been more of a nuisance than anything else. The two charges made on her VISA card before she cancelled it totaled just over $25. She has a new VISA and debit card, as well as all new gas cards.

Now she’s just trying to learn from the experience and not think about it. If others learn something from it, even better.

“I’ve told my friends and they’ve told their friends. I hope it helps people be more careful.”

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