A man in his 80s and the bystander who tried to help him were targeted in a brazen robbery attempt and assault with a vehicle at Palo Alto's Charleston Shopping Center on Wednesday afternoon, police said.
The reported crime, in which a person tries to slip a piece of jewelry off the victim or steals the jewelry, has happened before in the city, according to previous police reports. This time, the attempted robbery took place in the parking lot of the shopping center in the 3900 block of Charleston Road, according to a press release issued Thursday.
Police promptly responded to the shopping center at about 1:14 p.m. after receiving a call about an in-progress robbery, but the reported robbers had already fled. No one was injured, police said.
A woman had approached the man in his 80s while he was sitting in his car. She told him it was her birthday and that she wanted to give him a gift. She reached into the car and suddenly tried to remove his watch from his wrist, he told police.
When the older man fought back and yelled for help, a man in his 40s who witnessed the struggle tried to intervene. The woman left and entered the back seat of a nearby Jeep Cherokee driven by a man.
When the good Samaritan tried to take a picture of the Jeep's license plate, the driver of the getaway car backed directly at him. The man had to step out of the way to avoid being struck. The Jeep fled south on Middlefield Road, police said.
Witnesses described the suspects as being between 25 and 35 years old and possibly of Middle Eastern heritage. The woman wore a long black skirt and a white top; the man wore a black V-neck T-shirt and had a full black beard and mustache. The vehicle is a black, newer model Jeep Cherokee with a tinted cover over its rear license plate. The license plate was possibly from Florida, police said.
"When police are able to identify the suspects, officers will be seeking charges of attempted robbery and assault with a deadly weapon (both felonies)," the department said in its press release.
Palo Alto has had three similar roadside jewelry scam cases where older adults were targeted for thefts between October 2021 and May of this year, police said. Detectives are investigating to see if the cases are connected or if there have been similar crimes in other cities. As of Thursday afternoon, there is no evidence connecting any of the incidents, police said. The three prior cases remain unsolved, with no identified suspects.
Police recommend that adult children and caregivers of older adults discuss these recent incidents with them and make their loved ones aware of the scams.
"Always remain aware of your surroundings and be cautious if approached by a stranger or occupants of an unfamiliar vehicle," police said.
The department also recommends maintaining a safe distance from any stranger or unfamiliar, unoccupied vehicle. The agency also called ny suspicious behavior or crimes can reported
Anyone with information about the robbery attempt and assault or other crimes is asked to call the department's 24-hour dispatch center at 650-329-2413. Anonymous tips can be emailed to [email protected] or sent by text message or voicemail to 650-383-8984.