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Bogus officials target the elderly


5:47pm 3rd November 2011

North Yorkshire Police are urging residents to be vigilant when answering their door to cold callers following a spate of distraction burglaries across the county.

Incidents have been reported in Thirsk, York and Whitby this week, where men claiming to be from the 'water board' have been calling at the homes of elderly people and trying to con their way into their homes.

In one incident in Thirsk, two men entered the home of an 85-year-old woman on Halloween night and stole cash from her purse. One man distracted the woman in the kitchen and bathroom, while a second man entered her house and stole the money from her purse.

Other attempts were made at homes in the same area, but they were refused entry and nothing was stolen.
The Thirsk suspects are described as aged between 30 to 50, dressed in dark, casual work-style  clothing and one was wearing a baseball cap. One had dark hair and olive skin. The car they used is described as a dark-coloured saloon.

Earlier, on the same evening, a man called at the home of an elderly woman in Bad Bargain Lane in York. Again he claimed to be from the 'water board' and said that the house next door had a problem. The woman allowed him in, but became suspicious and asked him to leave. Nothing was stolen.

He is described as having dark hair, aged in his 30s to 40s.

In the latest incident in Whitby, at around 7.30pm on Wednesday 2 November, a man called at the home of an 84-year-old woman in Helredale Gardens claiming to be from the 'water board'.

The man claimed there was a leak next door and that he needed to check her taps. He distracted her by getting her to watch the taps while he investigated under the sink.

When the man left her house, the woman discovered an amount of cash had been taken from a cupboard.

Although a second man was not seen by the victim, it is possible that someone else entered the house and stole the cash while she was distracted.

The Whitby suspect is described as having dark hair and dark complexion with pointy features, of slim build, aged in late 20s to 30s and spoke with a Teesside accent.

Detective Chief Inspector Heather Pearson, who is leading Operation Haven, the force's dedicated burglary crackdown, said:

"Offenders who commit distraction burglary, deliberately target the elderly and vulnerable within our communities. They are deplorable crimes and the aftermath leaves many victims extremely distraught and traumatised. Some never recover from the effects.

"It is very important that anyone who has seen people matching the men's description or know who is responsible, comes forward to the police.

"Whilst we will do all that is possible to identify those responsible and take effective action, it is possible that they will strike again, and this could be anywhere in the county.  I am urging everyone within the community to be vigilant where cold callers are concerned not let anyone into their homes who they are not expecting."
DCI Pearson added:

"I am appealing to anyone who has elderly friends, neighbours or relatives to look out for them and encourage them to not allow anyone into their homes who they do not know. It is also worth considering joining the Nominated Neighbour scheme.

"I am also appealing for anyone who may have seen the suspects in their neighbourhood,  who may have answered their to them, or who saw them using a vehicle to contact the police.

"We are determined to catch whoever is responsible and any information from members of the public, no matter how small could help the investigation."

Anyone with any information is asked to call North Yorkshire Police on 0845 60 60 247. If you do not want to give your name, you can call the Crimestoppers charity on 0800 555 111 and give information anonymously.

Probation Trust doorstep sellers

In a separate incident, door-step sellers claiming to be from the Probation Trust called at the home of a man near Skipton last night (Wednesday 2nd November 2011). They claimed to be selling goods as part of a Probation Trust scheme.

York and North Yorkshire Probation Trust have advised the following:

Please be assured that the York and North Yorkshire Probation Trust operates no scheme of this nature and our advice is not to buy from salespeople who claim to be part of this project.  

Anyone approached by any person who claims to be working under the authority of York and North Yorkshire Probation Trust in this way should immediately contact North Yorkshire Police on 0845 60 60 24 7, giving as much detail as possible about the person and the business they claim to represent.

The Probation Trust does not issue identity badges to offenders.

A few tips to keep you safe

Not sure? Don't open the door!

If you're not sure who is at your door, don't open it! Check the identity of the caller by calling the company they are purporting to be from ie. Gas, Electricity, Water, Police. Use the telephone numbers listed in your local directory or provided independently by your service provider. Do not use any telephone numbers provided by the caller, they may be bogus!

  • Telephone a neighbour or friend nearby to come along and check out the caller before you open the door to them.
  • Consider joining the Nominated Neighbour Scheme
  • Many utility service providers like gas electricity and water, provide password schemes or hotline numbers for customers to call, to check the identity of callers before opening the door. Speak to your utility provider.
  • Don't keep large quantities of cash at home; put it in the bank or post office where it is safe.
  • Keep doors locked and windows secure at all times. Always keep your door chain on.
  • If somebody asks for your help, needs to make a telephone call, has lost a ball in your garden, needs a drink or request a pen and paper for example, refer them to a younger neighbour or assist them through a closed door. Or call a friend or neighbour to come and assist.
  • If you suspect a bogus caller has visited you, even if you didn't let them in, call the police straight away. We need to know!

Nominated Neighbour Scheme

The Nominated Neighbour Scheme which encourages elderly and vulnerable residents to seek assistance from a trusted neighbour to help deal with cold callers.

The idea is for the homeowner to hold up a card to the window or door telling the caller that they do not recognise them and to go to their Nominated Neighbour.

That neighbour will then check the caller's identity. A genuine caller will not mind following the instructions on the card and those with a criminal motive will make off very quickly.

Whatever happens, it is vital that any suspicious behaviour is reported to the police immediately.

For more information on the scheme please go to the North Yorkshire Police website - www.northyorkshire.police.uk/neighbour - where you can download the Nominated Neighbour card. Your local Safer Neighbourhood Team officers and PCSOs will be able to assist and offer further advice on the scheme.
These are also available from your local police station, please call 0845 60 60 247

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