Don't be a victim
PUBLISHED: 18:18 31 August 2006 | UPDATED: 11:59 04 May 2010
IN less than a month, conmen have targeted eight homes in East Cambridgeshire, conning elderly and vulnerable residents out of their cash and valuables. They call in different disguises posing as water board officials and even policemen to win over thei
IN less than a month, conmen have targeted eight homes in East Cambridgeshire, conning elderly and vulnerable residents out of their cash and valuables. They call in different "disguises" posing as water board officials and even policemen to win over their victims' trust. LESLEY INNES looks at the disturbing crime of distraction burglary and the work being done to beat the tricksters.
PROFESSIONAL conmen are working in East Cambridgeshire, targeting the area's elderly and most vulnerable and robbing them of their valuables.
The tricksters make a living from their trade, painstakingly researching the district looking for easy pickings.
In one day alone last week they struck three times, calling at the home of a 96-year-old woman in Ely, an 87-year-old woman in Sutton and an 80-year-old man in Haddenham.
Each time they posed as police officers giving their victims the stories that they were chasing criminals or trying to return lost money.
"The distraction method where offenders pose as police officers or staff and claim to be pursuing criminals is relatively uncommon in our area," said Cambridgeshire police burglary squad detective sergeant, Steve Kerridge.
"Residents should refuse entry to any person purporting to be from the police unless valid photo identification can be produced.
"Modern Cambridgeshire Constabulary identification cards are
completely smooth with both the force crest and picture of the bearer digitally produced on them. Anything laminated or with pictures stuck on should be refused.
"Any genuine member of police staff will happily permit the card to be inspected closely."
Just days before these distraction burglaries were committed, conmen struck in Littleport, Little Thetford, Burwell and Stetchworth claiming to be from the water board.
Police say there is a common thread in the burglaries. A primary offender has been described as white, in his twenties with closely-cut dark hair.
Witnesses refer to him as being seen on different days in both a shirt and tie and also in more informal workwear.
Det Sgt Kerridge added: "The burglary squad has been successful in arresting and charging two allegedly prolific regional distraction burglary offenders, operating in very distinct ways in the last six months, who are awaiting trial."
INFO: Anyone with any information should contact the burglary squad at Cambridge's Parkside Police Station on 0845 456 4564 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
# Burglars research area to strike lucky
MANY elderly victims who fall prey to conmen have all the security measures in place in their homes to protect them - but they fail to use them.
They trust the unknown caller at their front door and often the trickster who has escaped with their valuables will call again.
These facts were uncovered by the Cambridgeshire Distraction Burglary and Rogue Trader Taskforce launched in 2001 to tackle these crimes.
The group includes leading organisations throughout the county, among them Age Concern, the police, social services, councils, trading standards and the pension service.
It was set up to create a multi-agency cross-county approach with the aim of:
n reducing the opportunities of crime by raising awareness
n reducing crime by educating the older and more vulnerable members of the community about security
n reducing the fear of crime by identifying, targeting and improving home security for the elderly and vulnerable.
As part of its work, 45 elderly victims of crime were interviewed, and the
survey revealed that nearly half of them lived in bungalows on their own.
Three quarters of them said they kept money in the house but 39 of them said they had some form of security, mostly chains on their doors.
But the survey revealed the worrying news that almost half of them didn't ask the caller for identification.
Cambridgeshire police warn the conmen are professional criminals, who research their areas and select their victims for their vulnerability.
They target numerous addresses in "one hit", knowing the law of averages dictates that they will strike lucky.
Cambridgeshire police burglary squad detective, Det Sgt Steve Kerridge said: "Offenders often state that they need to run water looking for dye, inspect the pipe work or turn off the water completely.
"I would urge residents to report any offences or suspicious behaviour to police immediately, with clear descriptions. Any areas which have been entered or touched in a property should be left alone, to maximise our chances of gathering best evidence, apprehending offenders and bringing them to justice."
# Guide to stay safe
Crime against elderly people is rare in Cambridgeshire, but when it does happen it can be deeply shocking and unsettling for the victim and their families. Most people who turn up on your doorstep will be genuine, but there are people out there who will try and trick their way in and steal from you. The Ely Standard has taken advice from Cambridgeshire police and put together this simple checklist for anyone who is elderly or living alone. Cut it out and keep it by your telephone or somewhere near the front door.
LOCK: Ensure you keep all exterior doors locked.
STOP: Before answering the door, stop and think about whether you are expecting anyone to call.
CHAIN: Put the chain or door bar on or look through the spyhole. Keep the chain on while you are talking to the person on the doorstep.
CHECK: Ask for and check ID. But beware, ID can be faked. Check a caller is genuine by looking up their details in the phone book. Do not call the number on the ID card as it may be fake. REMEMBER genuine callers will not mind waiting and will be happy to return when you have a neighbour or family member present.
Beware of anyone who says they need to carry out urgent repairs or says they need to use the toilet or your phone. Here are some useful telephone numbers:
Cambridgeshire police 0845 456456 4
Anglian Water (bogus caller helpline) 0800 145145
East Cambs District Council 01353 665555
Cambridgeshire Fire Service 01480 444500