TREASURE ISLAND, Fla. — The Pinellas County beaches are known for their white sugar sand and emerald green water.
But don’t let the tranquility of paradise lull you into letting your guard down.
Police warn a day of enjoyment can quickly turn to panic if your belongings suddenly disappear.
That’s what happened to a couple visiting on vacation from Chicago.
Josh and his girlfriend had both of their cell phones, credit cards, wallet with $130 cash and an expensive pair of Airpods all zipped up in a backpack safely tucked away at their spot on the beach - or so they thought.
“Where there’s people gathering, there’s going to be bad people that want to get out there as well and take advantage of people who are not paying attention,” said Chief John Barkley of the Treasure Island Police Department.
He says his agency sees “beach blanket” thefts every year, so we wanted to track that for you.
Police tell us as more people spread out from the pandemic and hit public places like the beach to socially distance - they are more at risk than ever before.
CrimeTracker 10 hot zones include busy Clearwater Beach where between March and August the city had 103 total reports of theft on the beach - up 19 percent from the same period last year.
Treasure Island reports 11 specifically “beach blanket” thefts totaling an estimated $6095 in losses since 2019.
But it’s not all COVID concerns. Experts suggest wider beaches like Clearwater force people to walk further away from their belongings to get to the water and make it easier to become a victim.
“They leave their bag unattended,” said Chief Barkley. “They just feel incredibly safe.”
But they aren’t safe from someone stealing their stuff.
There is technology you can use, built into many smartphones you can use to help fight back.
By enabling your location and setting up apps like “Find My iPhone” you can track your lost or stolen device in real-time when you share that information with a friend or family member.
But don’t try to confront someone who took your phone yourself. That’s what the police are for.
Josh and his family were able to track their stolen iPhones to a 7-11 down the street.
Not long after that Treasure Island Police made an arrest.
“She decided it would be a good idea to go buy alcohol and cigarettes with the stolen credit card,” said Chief Barkley of the female suspect who was arrested. “We tell people if you’re coming to the beach only take the stuff you need.”
Experts say leave your jewelry, expensive electronics and extra credit cards at home. And, if you do bring a wallet or cell phone, never leave it out of your sight.
Chief Barkley says people all too often take the risk.
“Anything that’s unattended, they think it’s going to be safe and they come out and it’s gone.”