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Ruse Burglaries Continue through Summer, with Chicago Still the Worst

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September 7, 2012
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Ruse Burglaries Continue through Summer, with Chicago Still the Worst

Ruse burglaries continue to make headlines, and while they have traditionally been concentrated around the Chicago, Illinois area, they can occur anywhere. Spring and summer seem to be the peak months, judging by the reports I’ve seen. These home intrusions start out with a deception and a distraction, and often end in significant losses for the unwary homeowner. In this news story from Agoura Hills, California, the homeowners experienced a significant loss of property – and a sense of violation.

When someone knocks at your front door, the common thing to do is open it. But beware, says a 90-year-old woman who was recently robbed of $60,000 in jewelry by two men who used a ruse to gain entry into her Agoura Hills home. The theft occurred between noon and 2 p.m. on Aug. 6 in the Hillrise community not far from the 101 Freeway.

How It Happened

“A guy knocked on the door. He had a big white pickup truck with a sign on the side that had a name and phone number. He said a co-worker was working on a broken water main across the street and he wanted to see if it affected our water,” said the elderly woman, who wished to remain anonymous for safety reasons. The man asked if he could enter the side yard to check the water main. “He was running a hose and everything to the side of the house. But I had a funny feeling. It didn’t feel right. So I went back in the house and locked the door. Then I came back out and he left right away,” she said.

The Bad News

At first, the woman said, she didn’t think much of the unexpected interruption because she didn’t see anyone else nearby. But later that evening she noticed some cash was missing from her wallet. That prompted her to check her jewelry box, and that’s when she realized someone had taken all the gold and diamond jewelry from one of her upstairs bedrooms. “The other guy came into my house. He probably was upstairs when I was distracted by the guy at the door,” she said.

Police Advice

Burglaries that take place while residents are at home are rare, said Detective Steven Colitti of the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station. Most burglars don’t want to confront the homeowner. They pick daytime hours, when the residents are most likely to be at school or work, to commit the burglary, Colitti said. Some thieves pose as door-to-door salespeople. They’ll knock on a front door and if no one answers they’ll go to the backyard and enter the home through an unlocked door or window. But if someone answers, the culprits might say they’re selling a product or service to appear legitimate. “If someone does knock on the front door, it is a good idea to look through a peephole or an adjacent window to see who is at the door. If you don’t know the person, let them know through the door or window that you are not interested in what they are selling. This lets the person at the front door know there is someone home,” the detective said.

Classic Ruse Approach: Pretense & Accomplice

Typically what happens in a ruse burglary is one of two individuals come to the door and tell the resident they work for the utility company, cable company or a landscaping business and need to do work in the backyard. While the homeowner is distracted, another individual will enter the home looking for valuables, notably jewelry or cash. Here’s another cautionary tale – this time from Denver, Colorado.

Denver Police say they're investigating a string of burglary cases aimed at elderly individuals living in the City Park North neighborhood. Three of the most recent cases involve two possibly male suspects who work as a team. One of the suspects lures the elderly individuals out of their homes while the other suspect goes in and takes valuables. In most cases, small items and cash were taken, Jackson said. "Be looking out for your elderly neighbors and relatives," he added. "Sometimes they can be more trusting and let people into their homes." The news release also came with a list of safety tips for potential targets. Those tips include: "You are not obligated to open the door for anyone you don't know;" "Check visitor's identity if they claim to be from a gas or electricity provider," and "Call police if you have any concerns."

And finally, a story from Orland Park, Illinois, in suburban Chicago: remember, many consider Chicago to be “Ruse Central” because of a long history of these crimes.

Recalling that Orland Park police had issued warnings about ruse burglaries, Mary Scarpaci asked her husband not to answer the doorbell when it rang one afternoon earlier this month. Mike Scarpaci, 85, answered cautiously — leaving the locked storm door shut as the man outside told him about work on the Silver Lake Country Club Golf Course, which backs up to the Scarpacis' tri-level home. His guard down, Mike Scarpaci followed the man to the back of his home to see what work was being planned. While the two were outside, Mary Scarpaci, 75, said she cautiously monitored another man who said he was a construction worker and who had entered the home. She got him a glass of water and followed his instruction to look out a window toward the golf course. "As the detective said to me, people don't want to be rude, they don't want to say no," she recalled.

Another Sad Ending

Calling the golf course later, she learned that no work was planned. The Scarpacis were among three victims of ruse burglaries within two miles of each other this month in Orland Park, which has had seven such crimes so far this year, according to police Sgt. Scott Malmborg. Nearly $17,000 in cash was stolen from the Scarpacis on Aug. 3; a gold pendant was taken from another home on Aug. 10; and four days later cash and jewelry — including a $25,000 ring — were reported stolen from the third. The crimes often leave a lasting impression. "I tell everybody I meet who will listen to me, 'Don't open your door,'" Mary Scarpaci said. "You just feel like you're being paranoid, but you have to be.”

Being wise to the ways of burglars is important – and while protecting against the ruse may not be one of FrontPoint’s Top 10 Home Security Tips, it’s still a good tactic to know. Anything that increases your safety, security, and peace of mind is important to us. We’re the leader in wireless home security, and the #1 ranked alarm company in the US – and we earned that spot with technology, pricing, and customer satisfaction that leaves the others far behind. These days, you even have to worry about some of the alarm salesmen coming to your door! That’s why smart shoppers choose FrontPoint – just read the reviews, and you’ll want a FrontPoint wireless home alarm system, too.

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