‘My whole life was in my billfold:’ Richland grandmother targeted by pickpocketing group while holiday shopping

RICHLAND, Wash. — Joanne Riccobuono, 89, was alone buying Halloween candy at Fred Meyer in Richland when a girl approached her asking for help.

“I was the only one in the aisle and this young girl came up to me, picked up a bag of candy, and asked about the calories on the back of it,” Riccobuono said.

Riccobuono recalled thinking it was “strange” that someone would be worried about calories if they were buying candy, but let it go.

That’s where she believes she went wrong.

“So then a few minutes later, I went up to go pay for my candy and I didn’t have my billfold. I had no idea what happened,” Riccobuono said.

That’s when the idea that her billfold had been stolen from inside her purse hit her.

“I’m so upset because I knew I had it and I knew it was taken. I never knew who was behind me, never saw anybody, never knew whether it was a girl or boy or what,” Riccobuono said. “I never felt anything.”

Her purse had been hanging off her shoulder unzipped, an easy target for pickpockets.

Inside was $136 dollars in cash, multiple credit cards, health insurance cards, social security cards, and her driver’s license.

“My whole life was in my billfold,” Riccobuono said.

She went back and forth from her car to the store, retracing steps while cashiers tried looking through their security footage.

Distraught, she returned home where her phone was already ringing.

Her credit union’s fraud department was calling, asking about thousands of dollars of charges for expensive items like computers.

Riccobuono was shocked that the thieves had already racked up multiple charges in the few minutes it took her to drive home.

“I just kind of felt stupid because I didn’t realize what was going on. You would’ve thought I felt something,” Riccobuono said.

She’s spent the last couple of weeks trying to recover and replace her losses.

And she’s not the only one.

Richland police believe Riccobuono was targeted by a group of four to five people suspected of stealing from around the Tri-Cities area for weeks.

In a Facebook post on Monday, RPD said they are investigating three known incidents so far.

But Hermiston police also posted about the same group of people on Nov. 1, leading officials to warn shoppers to be extra vigilant during this holiday season.

Some of those ways to keep your belongings safe are by securing them to your body and zipping them up to deter thieves.

Others include strapping your bag to the shopping cart with the seatbelt provided and never leaving anything out of sight.

“You know, if I’d had it over my shoulder and in front of me, I don’t think they could’ve done anything,” Riccobuono said.

Richland police are still searching for the suspects. If you have any information or know who they are, call the non-emergency dispatch immediately at 509-628-0333.

RELATED:

Trio of Richland thieves wanted by police for pickpocketing scheme