Beware the burglary scams popping up all over the country

Photo © ricardoreitmeyer - Fotolia

Don't open your door to “service workers” you weren't expecting

With all the warnings you see lately about various forms of computer-based fraud and theft – hackers using malware to do anything from stealing credit card data from businesses, to holding people's personal computer files for ransom, to planting blackmail-worthy pornography on victims' smartphones – sometimes you might forget that old-fashioned, low-tech threats like “burglary” still exist, too.

In the past few weeks, police forces all across America received complaints from residents who fell for various forms of “burglary scam” – daytime burglars posing as utility or service workers either to fraudulently gain access to a home, or to distract a homeowner at the front door while an accomplice breaks in the back.

Last Saturday, in Peru, Illinois, an elderly widow living alone fell victim to what Peru police call a “ruse burglary” — a man came to her door, claiming that the city hired him to do some yard work. When she opened the door, he barged his way in and walked through her house, distracting her while an accomplice stole jewelry from her bedroom.

That was the second “ruse burglary” Peru saw in less than a month, and police in nearby Morris and Joliet have investigated similar crimes in their own towns.

Water department

In Trenton, New Jersey, a man falsely claiming to be from the city water department talked his way into a city home, and kept the homeowner busy in the kitchen, running the water faucet, talking into a walkie-talkie, and other official-looking (and noisemaking) things which a genuine water-department person might possibly do.

Not until four days after that visit from the “water department” did the homeowner notice that a lockbox in his attic had been forced open and emptied; he told police he thinks the “water department” employee distracted him in the kitchen while the thief operated upstairs.

Down in Florida, the Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office announced on Christmas Eve that it was searching for a woman suspected of participating in a “residential burglary scam” – she knocked on the front door of a home claiming to work for the power company, and spent several minutes chatting with the home's resident at the front door, while someone broke in the back door and stole various items from the house.

And just today, in Davenport, Iowa, the police warned of a burglary scam currently targeting area residents: groups of two to five people posing as utility workers, snow shovelers, home repair contractors or other service workers, again distracting homeowners while their accomplices break into various homes.

As with many types of scammers, the burglary scammers in Davenport will often try pushing their victims' panic buttons; in at least one instance, they claimed to be from the water department, and said “There is a water main break in your neighborhood and we have to test the water in your home right away.”

When Davenport police warned abut the scam on its Facebook page, they offered the following safety tips (which apply to people everywhere, not just residents of Davenport and the Quad Cities):

- Always keep your windows and doors locked, even when you are home.
- Always look out a window to see who is at your door. Make sure the person sees you. This lets them know that someone is actually home.
- Never open your door to anyone you do not know. Do not give them an opportunity to push the door in.
- Do not be fooled by "phony" uniforms, work vests, or ID badges. If you did not call or request the service, do not open the door.
- Never allow anyone who you do not know; or, a business or service you did not request, enter your home.
- If the scammer refuses to leave and/or continues to pressure you into letting them in, please call "911" immediately.

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