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HOUSTON — It’s a routine she’s had for the last 12 years– park her car, walk to work. But on Wednesday afternoon, in broad daylight, Mai Pham was ambushed from behind.

“It was traumatic. I’m still shaking. I feel so violated. Somebody came and shoved me and pulled my bag and ran,” Pham said.

Pham said the purse-snatcher made off with several credit cards, car keys, a camera and hundreds of dollars worth of other precious belongings inside. The man then apparently hopped in a getaway car and sped off.

“It happened so quickly. It seemed like something they knew they were doing, there’s two people involved. I called to cancel my credit cards and already two charges have appeared,” Pham said.

Even though there are multiple surveillance cameras surrounding the parking lot and several security officers surveying the area at all times, it wasn’t enough to stop the thieves. Luckily for Pham, witnesses in the crowded shopping center jumped in to help.

“This guy didn’t see what happened to me but saw the guy run into the car and speed off and he knew that something was wrong, so he followed him and took pictures of the license plate. I posted to Facebook and we now have the Florida license plate number (CIK M48), we know the VIN number, that it’s a rental car,” Pham said.

Incidents like this aren’t uncommon, especially during this time of year.

“These thieves, they travel around in gangs and they look for people that are not focusing– texting or they’re talking on the phone as they’re walking to the stores or in the parking lot,” Sr. Houston Police Officer James Sobota said.

To protect yourself, Sobota said shoppers should stay alert and carry just the bare necessities.

“Minimize your bags. Only carry your ID, maybe a smaller wallet, smaller purse and stay focused,” Sobota said.

Pham said the perpetrator was last seen wearing a light grey hoodie with a red bomber jacket and jeans.

If you know anything about this incident, or witness similar situations, call HPD’s Robbery Division at (713) 222-TIPS.