Spain's national police have broken up an organized band of thieves using hugs and kisses to distract victims.
Authorities have charged nine people in various cities across the country with using a technique called 'abracitos' ('little hugs') to commit robbery. The method involves kissing individuals on the cheek and/or hugging them while in the meantime relieving them of watches, bracelets, chains, wallets, purses, car keys, etc.
Police began investigating in early June after agents learned of the presence in the city of Málaga of a group of Eastern European criminals dedicated to the commission of theft by distraction. Their victims, often elderly, described similar situations in which a woman had approached them either claiming to be an acquaintance or asking for information and then hugging and/or kissing them at some point. Police believe this was done in order to take advantage of the diversion and steal jewelry and other personal effects.
According to investigators, the group operated mainly on the Mediterranean coast but had committed similar offenses in other Spanish regions. They said the main features of this criminal gang were its organization, coordination and its geographical mobility. The suspects are reported to have made sure to only stay briefly in each place in order to hamper police.
The alleged leader of the organization was a man who transported the rest of its members to the different locations they chose. The women who actually committed the thefts would then return to his car with the stolen goods.
The nine charged, a man and eight women, are all Romanians aged 20 to 32. Two were arrested in Malaga, two in Gerona, one in Vizcaya and another in Santander. The three others were arrested while trying to enter France via the Spanish border town of Junquera.
Officials were able to recover a bit of the money and various items, including 275 euros in cash, 285 British pounds sterling, a state-of-the-art mobile phone, a watch worth 27,000 euros and a high-end luxury car.