Viorel Agapie was one of a double act who targeted vulnerable people up and down the UK and throughout Europe before being caught in Wolverhampton.
Agapie and Leonard Velcu targeted shoppers in supermarkets, noting their credit or debit card pin numbers at the checkout.
Once outside they approached their victims asking if they had dropped £10 and encouraged them to check their purse or wallet before insisting on placing the £10 back inside. But, as they did so, they discreetly removed their bank card.
The con worked at least 21 times in just four months throughout England, from the Midlands up to the Lake District and Scotland, amassing the pair a £12,000 fund to help pay for their lavish lifestyle as they jetted around Europe.
But one hit at a Wolverhampton supermarket where a 78-year-old woman was duped out of almost £500 proved to be their downfall.
CCTV pictures were released and investigating detective constable Jase Garton got his first lead. He liaised with other forces and was given names for the pair.
In January 2019, 39-year-old Agapie was traced to an address in Wolverhampton and arrested. Velcu promptly fled the country.
A short time later Agapie was released on bail and he too fled abroad. West Midlands Police said he was released on the advice of the Crown Prosecution Service.
Both men had a history of offences together throughout Europe from Romania through to Spain and had served custodial sentences for robbery, theft and fraud.
Both had been deported from Sweden and banned from re-entering for 10 years in 2014.
Likewise in Denmark both had been imprisoned and then deported and banned from re-entering the country for six years.
Det Con Garton set about obtaining European Arrest Warrants and, in July last year Velcu was arrested in Croatia, having spent several months in Canada where he is thought to have committed up to 100 offences.
He was brought back to the UK where he was sentenced to four and a half years in prison, but accomplice Agapie was still on the run.
Det Con Garton, from force CID, said: “Even though we had a European Arrest Warrant for Agapie, it took 13 months to track him to Germany where he was detained in February earlier this year and then the pandemic hit, so there were no flights available. He was eventually brought back from Dusseldorf in July.
“It was not enough to bring one half of this duo to justice, both of them needed to be imprisoned for the many victims who had fallen prey to them.”
Agapie pleaded guilty at Wolverhampton Crown Court and on Wednesday was sentenced to four and a half years in prison.