DC police are warning the public about an uptick a type of crime targeting restaurant and bar patrons: "Purse Dipping."
That's when one suspect distracts the victim while the other reaches into a purse or bag and lifts out a wallet or phone - or takes the whole purse, reports News4's Jackie Bensen.
It's become a scourge of restaurant patrons.The most recent incidents occurred last weekend in Georgetown.
Video from a security camera of a D.C. restaurant last year shows a group of well-dressed people pretending to be patrons. They walk in and look around, as if they're trying to decide whether to dine there.
But when they turn around and walk out, one swipes a customer's purse from the back of her chair.
The thieves often work in groups or two or more. And not only do the victims lose valuables, they frequently have to deal with the nightmare of identity theft.
"The perpetrators in these types of offenses are very skilled - they practice their technique before applying" it, read an email from D.C. Police's Second District warning citizens of the schemes.
In cases when only a wallet or phone is taken, sometimes the victims aren't aware they've been hit until they try to pay a check - and realize they've been pickpocketed.
As the holiday season approaches, more people are spending time in restaurants and cafes, for Christmas parties, and getting together with friends. Handbags placed in easily accessible places, on the floor, or the back of a chair are the most tempting targets.
Experts say the safest place to keep your purse or bag is right in front of you.
In their email, police said, "please encourage friends and relatives to end the practice of hanging their purse off the backs of chairs!"