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Merchants buying cigarettes at Costco being targeted, police suspect

Police in Greater Victoria say a growing black market for cigarettes could be fuelling three recent cigarette thefts linked to merchant purchases at Costco.

Boxes of cigarettes worth $10,000 have been reported stolen in three separate incidents in Saanich since June.

Most recently, on Aug. 17, $6,000 in cigarettes was taken from a locked storage area at the AM 2 PM convenience store at the corner of Burnside and Harriet roads.

"This is the first occasion where it resulted in a break in and theft. The others were thefts from vehicles," said Staff Sgt. Gary Schenk, with the Regional Crime Unit.

He said police are concerned about the common denominators in all three incidents: the cigarettes were all purchased at Costco and stolen within an hour. "The suspects appear to be watching people make purchases (of cigarettes at Costco), then follow them to see if the opportunity presents to make a theft," Schenk said.

In the Aug. 17 incident, an AM 2 PM employee had just returned to the store with the cigarettes. Within half an hour they were gone and the metal lock had been cut. In the other two thefts, the cigarettes were stolen from the vehicles while the purchaser left the vehicle unattended.

Schenk says a fourth incident, from June 28, is being investigated, too, after someone made a large purchase of cigarettes from Costco, then called police because he believed he was being followed.

"The only reason we draw that link (to Costco) is the thefts are occurring in a way that nobody should've known there was that volume of cigarettes in that vehicle," he said.

These thefts appear to be identical to a rash of thefts linked to bulk purchases at the Costco in Nanaimo, occurring since February 2011. Some $40,000 worth of cigarettes have been stolen.

Given the amount of cigarettes being taken, along with "past experience and street-level intelligence," Schenk says they believe the smokes are being sold on the black market.

"We're talking about cigarette volumes too great for any individual use or consumption. We definitely think they're being resold," he said.

Saanich police are looking to speak with anyone with information about Friday's theft from the convenience store.

Schenk said police have been in contact with management at Costco.

"We're encouraging people to take precautions and not leave substantial purchases like that unattended, and to get them secured in their homes and businesses as quickly as possible," he said.

Police are asking anyone with information on any of these incidents to call 250-475-4321 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

kslavin@saanichnews.com

 

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