A pair of bold diamond thieves has hit jewelry stores across Canada, switching fakes for the real thing in the blink of an eye.
“They started in July in Vancouver and worked their way right across Canada,” said Wayne Smith, the Saint John, N.B., jeweller who went public about his own robbery this month and has since heard directly from stores and police officers from coast to coast about similar heists.
“Right across Canada. Big time. This is huge.”
The thieves present themselves as a middle-aged couple arguing over how many carats to buy, and then switch real diamonds with fakes while salespeople are distracted.
The most recent reported robbery was in Charlottetown, where police said Monday that the couple “managed to swap useless stones for two diamonds valued at approximately $20,000” at a store in the P.E.I. capital.
“They have made their way through the Maritimes,” Charlottetown Deputy Chief Gary McGuigan said Tuesday. “Through our intelligence … we’re confident that they’ve been to Halifax, they’ve been in Fredericton, they’ve been in Saint John and then here in Charlottetown.”
Smith said such thefts are not uncommon at jewelry stores, but they’re usually kept quiet. He said he decided to speak out because his insurance deductible is so high it won’t cover the loss, and because the video is so clear the culprits can be easily identified.
When he went public with the Oct. 7 theft at his store, W. Smith and Co. Fine Jewellers, it seemed to shine a 1,000-watt floodlight on the couple’s shadowy misdeeds.
Smith said he now directly knows of a half-dozen thefts from Vancouver to the Maritimes, and thinks there are likely dozens more. He says the duo could easily have made off with more than $1 million in diamonds.
John Lamont, director of loss prevention for Jewellers Vigilance Canada, said Tuesday he encourages stores to report such thefts, to prevent other stores from being victimized.
“I encourage them to do that just for the fact of what’s taken place here. We can see it in a pattern of these people moving around the country, so I really encourage them to file a report with the police,” Lamont said.
McGuigan said the Charlottetown theft was only discovered when the storeowner told his employees last week to familiarize themselves with images of the couple who struck a few days earlier in Saint John.
“When the staff looked at the video, they were past the point of no return. One of the staff members said, ‘You know what, I’ve waited on those people.’ They did an inventory and that’s how they came up with the two pieces of worthless glass,” said McGuigan.
Police were hoping to identify the couple by late Tuesday – and then seek to find them.
“They are mobile, and we’re not sure their home destination is,” said McGuigan.
Smith said investigators were in his store Tuesday to extract the thieves’ DNA from a 1.5 carat stone worth $25,000 they tried to pilfer. They did make off with a one-carat diamond valued at $10,000, he said.
“These guys are crooks, they make a living off it, and they need to be brought to justice,” Smith said Tuesday.