Cops seek help nabbing Bluetooth Bandit as clever con broadens reception area 

The Bluetooth Bandit is broadening his reception area, police say.

The slick-dressed crook who wears a Bluetooth earpiece during heists has continued targeting the purses of patrons at San Francisco coffee shops, restaurants, bars and even on Muni.

Police are now revealing that he’s got a team of at least a half-dozen accomplices helping him charge credit and debit cards, netting tens of thousands of dollars in loot.

As reported in The San Francisco Examiner in October, the bandit wears a Bluetooth headset and snazzy suit and has slick methods for snatching the cards from purses. He uses his coat to conceal his hand as he digs into purses — even while the purses are slung on victims' shoulders.

Click the picture for more shots of the suspect and his alleged accomplices.

He is wanted in eight thefts in San Francisco and suspected in as many as six others in The City.

He has several accomplices ranging in age from their early 20s to late 60s. They are tasked both with helping to distract victims during thefts, and also with going on massive spending sprees with victims' cards at stores such as Target, Apple, Neiman Marcus, Costco and Nordstroms.

They often make charges on victims cards' within 20 minutes of the theft, long before the victims know their cards are missing, Moreno said. They have charged tens of thousands of dollars on victims' cards, he said.

The crime syndicate is also being investigated in Sacramento County, Mountain View and by the U.S. Postal Police.

On Wednesday, police invited The Examiner to watch several heists captured on surveillance video at city bars and cafes. The bandit looks like a clean-cut, on-the-go businessman. He typically wears a crisp suit, a black messenger-style bag and a Bluetooth headset during heists, police said.

And if it seems as if that could be almost anyone, note that he also walks very pigeon-toed.

In one heist caught on camera at a San Francisco restaurant, a woman sitting at the busy bar with her purse hung on the back of her seat was robbed. The bandit stood behind her chair pretending to watch the Giants game. With his coat covering his hand, he dug into her purse. The heist netted $15,000 for the crooks.

The same brand of heist was reported at cafes citywide, including at Starbucks and Peet's. In one theft, the bandit followed behind a woman and dug into her purse as she left a store. How did she not notice him following so close behind her? Because the "polite" person opening the door was his accomplice working to distract her, Moreno said.

He can steal sitting down as well. In one heist, the bandit sat at a cafe table behind a patron whose purse was slung onto the back of her seat. He took off his jacket, hung it on the back of his chair, then reached through his jacket sleeve to rummage through the victim’s purse.

The incidents began in July of last year and stopped in the fall. They started up again in February, and police say several have occurred in recent weeks.

Cops say the bandit may be using the Bluetooth device to speak with accomplices. One theory is that he could be providing stolen credit card information to the accomplice, though police said that at this point all theories are being considered.

The bandit is described as a black man in his 40s standing between 5 feet, 8 inches and 5 feet, 11 inches. He weighs between 160 and 175 pounds and has short hair, police said.

Anyone with information on the suspect is encouraged to call the San Francisco police anonymous tip line at (415) 574-444 or text a tip at TIP411, typing “SFPD” in the subject line.

maldax@sfexaminer.com

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