Distraction burglary is where a bogus visitor tells lies to con their way into a home, or creates a diversion so an accomplice can sneak in. Because elderly or vulnerable people are often targeted, distraction burglary can have a devastating effect – victims can lose their confidence and peace of mind, as well as money and possessions.
WHO ARE THE OFFENDERS?
Many are professional teams of con men or women who travel the country, choosing locations with a high density of older residents or mixed communities within easy access of main or arterial roads. Surveillance information suggests tens and sometimes hundreds of miles are travelled between offences. Offenders move on following a concentrated period of offending. The constant movement also makes detection both difficult and expensive.
Offenders often have a network of connections. There is a close relationship with the so-called ‘prop’ men; property repairers who trick older people into parting with large sums of money and distraction burglars. These criminals are known to sell victims details. They may use an accomplice who has made an initial ‘cold call’ to identify properties inhabited by older and other vulnerable people. Anecdotal information also suggests that prolific offenders respond less to rehabilitation and often learn their skills from their parents during childhood.
HOW TO AVOID BECOMING A VICTIM OF DESTRACTION BURGLARY
The West Shore Regional Police Department is committed to reducing distraction burglary, but police need the whole community to work together to keep out bogus visitors. By following these tips you can not only lessen your chances of becoming a victim, but also help others not to be targeted.
THEY’LL SAY ANYTHING
Bogus callers will say or do anything to gain entry to your home and because people are becoming more aware that they shouldn’t let anyone in, they are using increasingly devious tactics. Some of the lines used include:
- Playing for Sympathy – “I’ve broken down. Can I please use your phone?” or “I’ve ran out of gas. Could I borrow some money or a gas can?” or “I don’t feel very well. Could I use your toilet or get a glass of water?”
- Good Samaritan – “I’ve just caught someone climbing out of your window. I think they might have stolen something. We need to check your money and make sure it hasn’t been taken.”
- Using Children – “Hello. Can my son and I come in to ask you some questions for his school project?”
- Fake Emergency - “There’s a gas leak/flood in your road. I have to come in to turn off your supply.” (Note that if there is a real gas or water emergency, police and firefighters are likely to be present).
- Leaving a Note - “I’ve dropped in to see my aunt/friend who lives next door, but she’s out at the moment. Please, could I borrow a pen and paper to leave a note.”
In a lot of cases the person who calls at the door will divert your attention while an accomplice sneaks into your house to search for valuables.
Don’t be afraid to be rude. You are not obligated to open the door for anyone you don’t know. Don’t open the door to anyone before you’ve checked who it is – look out of the window or use a spy hole in your door. If you open the door, keep the chain on while you find out who is calling and what they want. If you’re not expecting someone and you don’t know them, don’t let them into your home, no matter what they say to you. If a caller is genuine they will understand your concerns. If someone claims to be from a company, such as a gas or electricity provider, always double check their identity – see the section below for tips on how to do that properly.
If someone is asking for a favor, such as to use your toilet, borrow a pen or retrieve a ball, don’t let them in. Instead direct them to a shop, office or public place. It’s only natural to want to help someone, but sadly that’s one of the techniques often used by distraction burglars. If you have any concerns about someone who has called at your door, call police immediately. If you have a chance try to note what they look like and any vehicle they have with them, so police can investigate.
If someone from a company calls at your door, even if you are expecting them, ask to see their identification and check it thoroughly. If you are blind or partially sighted, ask a friend or neighbor who you trust to help you if someone calls at your door.
If you were not expecting anyone, explain that you need to check they are legitimate and ask them to wait outside for a few minutes. Take a note of their name and the company they claim to be working for and then close and lock the door. Look up the phone number for the company in a telephone directory and check if they have an employee of that name and that they are visiting you on legitimate business. Never just take someone’s word for it and don’t use any phone number they give you to check their identity – you don’t know if it’s a genuine number.
Determine if you should call the police. Even if no crime has occurred, it might be worthwhile to make the police aware of any suspicious behavior. The police might be looking for a suspect that matches the person’s description, and your call may save others from falling prey to a distraction burglary.
The elderly are often not aware that they are a victim – Often victims do not realize something has been taken, for hours, days or even weeks. In such cases they are more likely to question their own judgement and memory rather than admit that they have been a victim.
Often the elderly believe that reporting the crime is futile – Feelings of great loss and powerlessness often ensue. These are compounded by emotions generated by other life events, a recent bereavement may take up all spare emotional capacity. As a result, victims often think its pointless and unnecessary to report the incident and in many cases to even mention it to friends and relatives.
Although anyone can be a victim of a distraction burglary, bogus callers often prey on elderly or vulnerable people because they see them as easier targets. If you know somebody who is elderly or vulnerable who might not be aware of this advice, please do all you can to help them to protect themselves and their homes. Offer to help your neighbors to check the identification of callers.
If you have elderly friends or relatives, have a look at their home to see if there are any extra security measures that could be taken. If they don’t have a door chain or spy hole make sure they have one fitted – they can be brought from most do-it-yourself stores for less than $20.
Encourage them to use a bank account instead of keeping large amounts of cash in their home. Help them to keep their yard tidy – some burglars keep a lookout for unkempt yards because it could be a sign that someone elderly lives there.
IF YOU ARE A VICTIM OF A DISTRACTION BURGLARY
Call the police to report a distraction burglary the moment you realize valuables are missing. Often, distraction burglars strike more than once, so make the report as soon as possible.