An Abbotsford woman’s eight-month crime spree that included the theft of credit cards, tires and even a toaster came to a halt due to the sleuthing of an alert fraud investigator.
Michelle La Chapelle, 33, of Abbotsford faces a total of 28 charges that include fraud, possession of stolen property, use of credit card data, and theft. The charges were sworn into the court in late August.
“It was a real soup to nuts situation. Anything that wasn’t bolted down seemed to be fair game,” said Abbotsford Police Const. Ian MacDonald.
An Åbbotsford Police Department fraud detective had been examining several stolen credit card crimes and found a pattern was starting to emerge, he said.
“The dots just kept connecting and connecting and the events all came back to the same individual,” he said, as it became evident that the person using the cards also stole the cards.
The investigating officers then reviewed surveillance tapes and other information to draw their conclusions.
“She would allegedly look for opportunities, such as an unlocked car, or wait until a person was distracted,” said MacDonald.
Stolen items included wallets, credit cards, iPods, restaurant gift cards, some tires and even a toaster that had been plugged in at the Abbotsford Recreation Centre, he said.
The offences took place between Nov. 6 last year and Aug. 5.
MacDonald couldn’t say what the total value of the stolen goods would be, but estimated it was in “the thousands of dollars.”
Chapelle was also a “person of interest” in several other similar crimes, but in those cases the police could not collect enough evidence to meet the threshold for charge approval, said MacDonald.
The Abbotsford woman is well known to the police, who have recorded “well over 100 contacts with her in the last five years, although not all were criminal in nature,” he said.
“However, we certainly didn’t have a indication of the prolific nature of her [alleged] activities,” which amounted to a “full-time job,” said MacDonald.
The police are also looking into the possibility that Chapelle is linked to a ruse in which a woman who would try to solicit a ride from strangers to an automated teller machine and then ask for money. The incidences happened in Abbotsford in the spring and summer. The police have determined the request was indeed a deception.
“We received a number of complaints about a woman in her 30s who would approach people at intersections or in malls, saying she had a crisis with her children and needed to get to an ATM. Then at the ATM she would recall that she had paid a bill and wouldn’t have money in her account, and would then ask the Good Samaritan to provide money,” said MacDonald.
Some people would give her a ride, and typically gave her $20 to $80 – “that was not uncommon,” he said.
However upon reflection, or after talking to family or friends, the victims would report the incident to the police.
In one instance, a woman was waiting at a red light with her children in the back seat, when the suspect female jumped into the car, insisting on getting a ride to an ATM. The woman in this case did not comply with the suspect’s request.
MacDonald said a man also solicited people the same way, claiming he had lost his car keys and needed money for a tow truck.
“Any time anyone asks for money, flags should go up. Directing people to social or government services is the better option,” MacDonald advises.
He also reminds people to not leave valuables in their vehicles and to lock their vehicles and homes when they are away from them.