East Vancouver

Can I use your phone? But woman uses kindness to steal, police say

Can I use your phone? But woman uses kindness to steal, police say »Play Video
Vancouver police released this photo from surveillance video of who they say is the suspect.

VANCOUVER, Wash. – Sheryl Price-Armstrong was sitting in her yard with her sister Saturday afternoon when a woman came up to them and asked if she could borrow a phone.

The woman told them she had locked her keys in a nearby church and needed to call someone.

Sheryl didn't think anything of it and handed over her cellphone. And being respectful, she gave the woman some space to make her phone call. The woman stood near Sheryl's car, dialed and spoke to someone on the other end.

It wasn't until later when Sheryl went to go to the store that she noticed her purse had been stolen from her car.

"I think she was standing there distracting us so somebody could go and grab my purse out of my car – and giving them enough time to do it," she said Tuesday during an interview with KATU News.

Sheryl checked her phone and discovered the woman had never made a phone call.

Another victim, 86-year-old Milrae Hanley, said in all the decades she's lived on her block, this was the first time she's regretted helping out a neighbor or someone she thought was her neighbor.

"I just can't understand anybody doing that," she said. "If she needed money really bad, I might have given her some money."

The woman went to Milrae's door, pretended to be locked out of her family's house down the street and asked to use the phone. But she snuck out with Melrae's purse, which contained cash and her Social Security card.

The thief steals more than just physical items. She also steals people's trust.

"I'm not, not trusting anybody (anymore)," Milrae said.

And for Sheryl?

"That makes me so skeptical. I don't know if I can trust people anymore. That's ridiculous," she said. "It's a lot of steps to redo your life and get your identity back. It's frustrating. And boy, when your whole life is in your purse, you really don't realize it.”

Police say there have been nine similar cases since April and the suspect usually targets people in their 70s or 80s.

Police describe the woman as white, 5 feet 2 inches to 5 feet 5 inches tall, thin and with shoulder length brown hair.

They say there's a good chance the suspect is working with at least one other person. They were seen driving a red suburban at one point.