Thieves are hugging new students and revellers on nights out in Sheffield to steal phones, cash and valuables, police have warned today.
The tactic has been revealed by the police chief in charge of policing Sheffield, District Commander Simon Torr, who said there have been a number of reports over recent weeks.
Officers made four arrests last Thursday night after spotting four men hugging strangers on West Street.
They have been released on bail pending further enquiries while officers investigate recent allegations of theft.
There have also been reports of two women ‘huggers’ stealing from people in the city.
Chief Superintendent Torr issued the warning and said the new tactic was being used by thieves to coincide with the return of university students to the city, including those away from home for the first time.
He has extra officers on patrol in the city centre, around university buildings and in popular student areas, giving out crime prevention advice in a bid to reduce the risk of students being targeted by criminals.
“These so-called ‘huggers’ are something new for Sheffield and they basically approach people in the street and offer them what appears to be an innocuous hug, and it is only later that people realise their phones or other valuables have gone missing,” he said.
“We have had reports of this and want to warn people that it is happening so they are not caught out.
“The people doing this realise most people these days carry a mobile phone at all times, and when officers on patrol in the city centre saw a group of four men giving out these hugs their suspicions were raised and they were arrested. Enquiries are ongoing.
“There have also been reports received of two women doing this.”
South Yorkshire Police is also using social media networks, including Twitter, to ensure crime advice reaches students.
Chf Supt Torr added: “We want students to have a good time but a safe time too.”