Credit card thieves hit Sonoma County park

Petaluma Police are releasing photos of two thieves who strolled out of Target Stores Sunday afternoon, with more than $5000 worth of merchandise. It was all purchased in a half-hour span with stolen debit and credit cards belonging to a Sonoma couple out on a hike. 

"You feel violated," the victim told KTVU by phone, using his first name, Patrick. 

As he and his wife enjoyed a few hours of bird-watching at Shollenberger Park, they had no inkling they were financing a shopping spree.

"We had no idea until we were home, or almost home and my wife Shari got the email," said Patrick. 

By the time they received alerts from their banks about suspicious activity, the two thieves had swept through the tech departments at two Target stores, in Petaluma and Rohnert Park. They purchased expensive electronics and gift cards that could be spent anywhere. When the victims returned to their car, it showed no signs of a break-in. Their wallets were where they left them: in a glove compartment and in a purse out of view. In order to mask the crime, the thieves even moved credit cards and cash around so the wallets didn't look disturbed.

"So it looked like there were still credit cards and bills there," said Patrick, " so I suspect they were experienced and had a plan." 

Investigators have a hunch the two are local, and that someone will recognize them. The stealth and speed they showed are unfortunately, common. 

"They get a good card, it hasn't been cancelled and they can use it since no one checks I.D.'s," explained Lt. Tim Lyons of the Petaluma Police Department. "Usually they go to gas stations, convenience stores, and in this case, buy high-end electronics and gift cards which are not traceable."

Such fraud is made easier by the swift swipe and sign transactions at most retailers. 

"Checking identification just doesn't happen anymore, I wish it did," said Lt. Lyons, "but stores want to make the purchase and move people along, get them out of the store." 

Signs posted at the two acre park advise securing valuables in locked trunks and out of sight, and many visitors do.

"I think I'm overly cautious because I used to live in San Francisco," said jogger Erin Grace, " but this reaffirms that I shouldn't let my guard down." 

Other visitors admit in thier haste to get t the trail, they take chances.

"You're just not expecting it here" said visitor Carrie Cheadle," and after work, I want to get outside, I don't want to take the time to hide everything on the seats, so I leave it there." 

The speed of the shady purchases though, was eye-opening. 

"I am definitely going to keep this in mind," said park visitor David Schlosser, "because to rack up five thousand dollars in a half hour, that's nuts."

Patrick, the victim, says he is lucky his bank will reimburse for the entire loss.

In the future he plans to strictly heed the warning he has heard so many times in the past.

"Next time I go to one of these parks, I'm keeping my wallet in my pocket," he declared, "and that's my advice to everyone, don't leave valuables in your car."