Tampa police are investigating eight recent purse thefts, and they say the thieves are targeting women at gas stations and in shopping mall parking lots.
Leslie McDowell had it happen to her. She was buckling her son into his car seat in the parking lot outside of Dillard's at Brandon Town Center, and next thing she knew, her purse was gone.
"I'm sticking my head in to buckle him and I'm seeing a head in the front seat," McDowell Explained.
She says it happened in seconds. McDowell's purse was in the front passenger seat, the car door was closed and McDowell was focused on her child in the back.
"(My son) got in the car. I popped the trunk, put the stroller in. On my way back to the side to buckle him in, someone opened my passenger door and snatched my purse out," McDowell said.
She noticed a car pull up next to hers, but she thought they were just parking. It was 6:45 p.m. and a lot of people were around—but it didn't matter.
"I've always been cautious. That's what scares me," said McDowell. "I guess once you put your purse in your car, you figure you're safe. You're in your car. Your purse is in your car. Your kid is in the car, but that's not the case."
Purse thieves are targeting women across the area, mostly at gas stations. At a Radiant gas station on West Hillsborough Avenue July 28th, bold thieves pulled right up, opened the door of the passenger side of the victim's car, grabbed, and got away. An unsuspecting woman and her two children were on the driver's side pumping gas.
Justin Seebech, 22, is suspected in several purse thefts. Police have a warrant for his arrest.
The Brandon Town Center incident is only the most recent in the county. They've seen up to five in the past month. The Hillsborough Sheriff's Office has this advice: "When you get out of the car, even when you're pumping gas, you're going to take your keys out, lock your door and make sure that your windows are up," said Spokesperson Debbie Carter.
Authorities say any woman with a purse is a potential target.
McDowell is nervous the crooks have her personal information, and she can't believe that she became a victim.
"I even have a pocket knife in my purse. I have a pocket knife on my side when I run. I'm very cautious, so it's very shocking that it happened," she said.
McDowell chased after the car, but they were gone. She says it was a black Toyota Camry or Tercel with dark tinted window and missing hub caps. She couldn't get a tag number because they had removed their plates.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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