A gang of organised criminals targeting vulnerable women in Lancaster and the Fylde sneaked out of the country as police were closing in on them.
The men and women, believed to be from Eastern Europe, raked in thousands of pounds from their victims – distracting them with sob stories before an accomplice stole their purse.
But as police managed to identify members of the gang the culprits fled the country in a bid to escape justice.
Police believe the gang saw their pictures in the paper and got spooked, and said they were playing the waiting game as ports are on the look-out for them if they ever try to set foot in the UK again.
Insp Mark Morley, of Blackpool Police, said it was ‘good and bad news’ as it meant the problem had stopped.
In July 2015 the thieves stole up to £5,000 at a time from unsuspecting victims as officers appealed for help to track them down.
There was one theft in Lancaster and six thefts on the Fylde coast that police believe were linked – although forces up and down the country were hunting the gang down.
Police at the time called the acts ‘despicable’ as in some cases women were followed before the criminals struck, using fake stories to distract them while someone rummaged through their handbag.
Insp Morley said: “We managed to identify the individuals involved but they fled the country.”
He said the crooks lived a ‘transient’ lifestyle but officers were able to track them down to an address in Slough.
“They are still classed as wanted,” he added. “If they come back into the country they will be arrested as soon as they pull out a passport.
“It’s a shame it ended that way as the net was closing in.”
The gang, who operated nationwide, were linked to offences in Lancaster, central Blackpool, South Shore, Marton, Kirkham, Thornton and Cleveleys.
In each case, elderly women were targeted and had their purses, cash or bank cards stolen.