It's called a distraction theft, and it happens more often than you might imagine. Frequently, seniors are the targets of distraction thieves. Distraction thieves travel in small packs, move around the country to escape prosecution to work their scams.
A distraction theft usually is performed by at least two people, although some distraction thieves work alone. When two people work the scam as a team, it usually involves one person distracting the victim, while the other helps themself to the victim's unattended belongings. These crafty thieves accomplish their distraction in a variety of ways and will use every trick in the book to get inside your home. They may come to the door as a team, pretending to be inspectors, utility workers or sales people for pest control businesses, roofing companies, or other home improvements.
Once inside your home, the crime will begin. Working as a team, one of the thieves will engage the victim in a conversation or phony sales pitch to divert the victim's attention while the other thief sneaks away to swipe the victim's belongings.
Other distraction thieves prefer to work alone. They go house-to-house knocking on doors. If no one answers, the thief may go around to the rear of the house and look for any easy way to get in. If someone answers the door, the thief will try a variety of excuses to try to trick you into letting them in your home. Here are some of the distraction thief's most common lines: I'm here to check your pipes, check your telephone line, check the water, you've won a prize, or I've lost my pet. Others will ask for a glass of water, a pen or piece of paper to jot down a note, or ask permission to use your toilet.
Once inside, it's a green light for the thief to distract you long enough to case your home for valuables.
Like all cons and thefts, you're far less likely to fall for a scam if you know what to look for. Here's a list of safety reminders that will help you avoid becoming a distraction thief's next victim:
Stop and think: Are you expecting anyone to come to your home? Most utilities and service staff won't come to your home unannounced. They will make an appointment before showing up.
If your door has a chain, put it on before answering the door. It will create a barrier between you and the caller.
If someone unexpected, who you don't know, comes to your home, don't let them in unless you are absolutely certain they are genuine.
Try not to keep large amounts of cash in your home. Keep things like your pension book, savings book, checkbook and credit cards well hidden.
If a sales person, repairman or utility worker comes to your door, ask for an identification card. Then, read it carefully. If you're still not sure, close and lock the door and call the number on the card while the person waits outside.
If you're still not sure whether the person is genuine, close and lock the door and wait for the person to leave. If he doesn't, call law enforcement.