What to do when crime comes knocking - AmericaNowNews.com

Knock, knock... who's there?

It's one of the most under-reported crimes in America. Victims are often too embarrassed to call police. The Los Angeles Police Department recently joined forces with "America Now" to dramatize how this insidious crime is carried out.

Here's how it works: A polite young man at the door says he's conducting a survey. But he's really there to occupy you while his accomplices sneak into your house and steals what they can. You don't know it, but you've just become another victim of distraction burglary.

Distraction burglaries are targeted at the elderly. The vast majority of victims are senior citizens. They're easy targets because criminals know that it's natural for them to want to help someone, and very often these ruses are designed to illicit that kind of response. They're looking to help people. And people really key in on that and use it to their advantage.

Alan Hamilton is a lieutenant with the Los Angeles Police Department. He says the impostors involved in distraction burglaries are very convincing.

"They get them listening. They hook them in with their story and then they distract them away from the residence. Once their attention is turned away from the residence, that's when the other suspects are going to strike," says Lt. Hamilton.

"They may enter through the side of the house; through the back of the house and they're going to look for small items of value. They're going to look for cash. They're going to look for jewelry and they're going to look for other things that they can get of value and then they're going to get back out of that residence. We're talking maybe one or two minutes maximum," says Lt. Hamilton.

Lt. Hamilton says the crooks use a variety of clever cover stories to divert the victim's attention.

"We've seen people posing as utility workers. That one's very common throughout the United States. Someone will present themselves as a utility repair person – gas, water, electric -- and they'll say they need to get in the back yard. Or they need you to come out in the front yard and show them something. Anything to get your attention away from your residence," he continues. "You can only keep their attention for so long. That's why often you'll see more than one person enter the residence and go through the rooms. The more people that can get in and actually go through the rooms, the bigger take you're going to have and the lower the risk is going to be."

There are precautions you can take to lower your risk of becoming a victim.

  • If you're not sure who is at your door, don't open it.
  • Remember, you don't have to open your door to anyone.
  • If you do open your front door, make sure your back door is locked. 
  • Check the identification of anyone representing a company, utility or organization.
    Real employees expect to be asked for their ID and will provide you with a number to call to verify what they're doing. 
  • Don't just call the number they give you. Check with information or your phone directory to make sure the number isn't fake. 
  • And most importantly, stay inside your house. If a baby needs water, hand it through the door. Do not step outside no matter how innocent the situation seems.

Lt. Hamilton says these criminals prey on some of our most vulnerable citizens.

"We do catch some of them, but quite often, because we're dealing with a senior citizen population, we have identification issues," he says. "For instance, the person who's doing the distraction is not going to be the individual that's going into the house. So they're not going to be able to identify the person who actually enters. So that can make prosecution difficult. But we always aim to bring in the whole ring when we identify suspects in these cases."

Copyright 2011 America now. All rights reserved.

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