SOUTH MIAMI (CBS4) – Surveillance tape obtained by CBS4 shows a growing, serious problem in South Florida: predators who are targeting women at gas stations and looking for moments of distraction to take their purses and other valuables.

“I was in shock. I didn’t see them,” said the victim in this latest case, interviewed exclusively by CBS4’s Peter D’Oench.

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The tape from a Chevron Gas Station at 6180 S.W. 72nd Street (Sunset Drive) showed what happened to the victim this past Tuesday at 11 a.m. as she stopped to get gasoline while on her way to work.

She did not want to reveal her name or show all of her face because police said she may have been followed from her home; and she told police she saw the suspect’s newer model white Nissan Altima driving near the gas station on two or three occasions before the crime happened.

The victim, who identified herself as Stephanie, told CBS4, “It seemed like a normal day until I got up to the gas pump and went to put the nozzle back in and get my receipt; when I saw an arm being retracted back from a car and then I saw them taking off.”

The surveillance tape shows how the suspects sat in their vehicle as they were waiting and watching. They did not pump gas. As Stephanie was at the gas pump, the tape shows one suspect getting out of his car, crouching down below eye level, darting into Stephanie’s car, grabbing her purse and then getting into the Altima, which then drives away.

Stephanie was able to get a tag but it did not check out, police say. She lost $500 worth of items.

“I was in shock. I wasn’t afraid,” she said. “I didn’t see them. I basically saw the hand reaching back into their car and then driving off. So it was more of a shock than anything else. I think it’s unfortunate while some of us spend our days going to work that there are some people doing this instead.”

The crime took just eight seconds.

South Miami Police Major Rene Landa demonstrated for CBS4 how quickly the suspect moved.

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“Now when I open the door and reach this way, I grab it and go in,” said Landa. “This is a common crime in the last few years, particularly in the Dade County area. What we see usually being targeted is a female. What is very important for people to understand is that you can’t leave your purse unattended in the front seat and be preoccupied and not check your surroundings.”

“How many people lock their door when they go to the pump? But that’s what you have to do,” said Landa. “Lock your doors. Also when you come out of your home, see who’s there and who shouldn’t be there. You have to check your surroundings. In a world where everybody is texting or using their cell phone and they are going up to ATM or a gas pump. There are so many distractions and they are aware of these distractions when they are watching you.”

Ramon Perez told D’Oench that he has owned the Chevron station for nearly 32 years.

“I tell everyone never leave their purse or anything of value in their car,” said Perez. “I feel very bad about what happened. It’s bad for the customers and my business.”

“I will definitely lock my car, hide the purse and just be aware of anyone at the gas station not pumping,” said Stephanie. “You have to be very aware of your surroundings. Don’t be on the phone. Keep your eyes open and look around you.”

Stephanie hopes the suspects will be caught.

“It would be great stuff,” she said. “It would be great to have someone be reprimanded and for someone to be held responsible.”

Police said there is only limited description of the two suspects.

D’Oench also spoke with other women who were at the Chevron station.

“I think people are desperate and that’s why this is happening,” said Margaret Formosa. “It’s because of the economy and the situation people are in. I never leave my car without taking my purse and wallet with me and I always lock it up if I am away from it. In fact if I see people around me getting gas, I won’t get out of my car. I hear about too many bad stories.

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If you can help South Miami Police with this case, call them or Miami-Dade Crimestoppers at (305) 471-TIPS (8477).

Peter D'Oench