Home Repair Scams & Ruse Entry Burglaries
A few times a year, Police Officers take reports from homeowners who are victims of home repair frauds and ruse-entry burglaries. Recently, we received several such reports in which a con-man showed up at the victim's door saying he was there to investigate the quality of the tap water. If allowed in the home, the offender will then distract the victim while accomplices sneak in and go throughout the house stealing jewelry and cash. The victims in these crimes often don't know that their belongings are missing until after the offenders are long gone.
In scams such as these, the offenders will often identify themselves as a City inspector or a utility company worker who is there to conduct some type of emergency work. In another type of ruse, the offender will attempt to trick the victim homeowner with the promise of low-cost home repairs. Seniors are the most common victims of these crimes mostly because offenders believe that they often live alone and often have small valuables and cash in their homes.
In one of the most common home repair scams, the offenders will drive residential neighborhoods in an unmarked, older pick-up truck or work van. They will look for someone alone outside their home perhaps tending to the lawn. In or on the vehicle will be some construction equipment such as hand tools, buckets, ladders, etc. A person from the vehicle will approach the homeowner with an enticing tale such as that his crew has just completed a job in the neighborhood and he has materials left over from it that are already paid for. Because of that, he can offer to conduct a repair of the driveway, roof, walkway, or whatever he sees that looks worn, for just a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. The amount will be considerably less than what the homeowner might normally expect to pay for such work. The "repairman" will offer to do it immediately as he and his crew have finished the last job ahead of schedule and they have time to do this one right away. The offenders, having performed a less than adequate job that isn't immediately apparent, may leave satisfied with the cash they have scammed from the victim/homeowner.
Home repairs done cheaply, conveniently, and immediately - It sounds too good to be true -- because it is! These con-men use inadequate or inferior materials, which won't be apparent until a short time after they are long gone with the victim's money and valuables.
The offenders may also use the home repair scam as a means to gain entry to the victim's home to steal valuables or money from within. Often, they will come up with an excuse to get into the home, such as a need for gallons of hot water to complete the repair. While one "repairman" distracts the homeowner for several minutes, noisily filling buckets from a basement or kitchen sink, his accomplices slip inside quietly and separate, looking in all the common hiding places for small valuables, cash, and jewelry. Often, the victims of these types of burglaries don't know for hours, days, or even longer that their belongings were stolen. By then the thieves are long gone, having left little behind to allow a successful police investigation.
Rather than offer cheap home repairs, the offenders may instead show up at the home unannounced and tell the owner that they are from a utility company and that they are there to check on some serious problem with the gas, electric, or water. They may intimidate the owner into allowing them entry immediately or even push their way into the house. Once inside, the crew will separate while one keeps the homeowner occupied.
How can you avoid such scams and frauds?
Never let any strangers into your home. When answering the door to an unexpected stranger, leave the door closed and locked. Speak to them through the door and make use of peep holes or windows near the door.
Do not rely solely on ID cards. Anyone with some minor computer skills can easily make a photo ID card that looks legitimate. Call 9-1-1 for assistance in confirming their identity.
If you have any doubts whatsoever about a service person having a legitimate need to come into your home, do not let them in. Call 9-1-1 immediately and ask the emergency dispatcher if the City departments are aware of any utility problems in the area. If there are no known emergencies, a Police Officer will be sent immediately to investigate further.
If someone approaches you offering to conduct home repairs, do not let them in your home. Call the Police Department immediately by dialing 9-1-1 so that officers can investigate this suspicious incident in a timely manner. Officers will determine if the repairmen have a legitimate business (and a permit to conduct such work), or if they are attempting to commit a fraud, theft, or other crime.
When hiring out for home repairs, use only people that you either know or that you have confirmed with references. Call the Better Business Bureau to learn more about their company's history.
Always lock windows and doors, including when out doing yard work.
Unless they are following up on a pre-arranged, permit required installation, City inspectors will not come to your home. They will not show up unannounced to ask you to show them hot water heaters or potential utility problems in your home. Real City workers will never have a problem with you calling their department to confirm their identity and reason for being there.
If there were an emergency that required an evacuation; e.g., gas leak, the notification would be done by uniformed Police Officers and/or Firefighters.
If you or someone you know is the victim of such a crime, report it immediately so that the Police may prevent further victimization. The offenders of these frauds make a good living cheating people because they are very good at what they do.
REMEMBER: There is no such thing as a free lunch. If something sounds too good to be true, IT IS!