SCAM ALERT: Traveling distraction burglars targeting Tampa Bay area elderly

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – The Polk County Sheriff’s Office is sending a warning to residents, specifically the elderly, to be alert for a disturbing trend happening all throughout the bay area.

In recent weeks, five people fell victim to distraction burglaries, a trend that began last year in south Florida and has moved to our area.

This “distraction scam” occurs when people posing as roofers or workers -in one case they claimed they worked for the city- and lure elderly victims outside to discuss home repairs, while others sneak into the house through the backyard or side yard unnoticed and steal whatever they can grab. The suspects use cell phones & walkie-talkies to communicate with each other.

One victim didn’t want to be identified, but wanted to share his story to help others avoid the same.

“It made me feel real upset,” the 92-year old man told News Channel 8.

He said a well-dressed younger man came to his front door and said they had to check his water because a pipe had burst down the street. He claimed to be the City of Lake Wales. The victim let him inside and into the kitchen where he turned the water on. The man then said they had to go into the backyard.

The man turned on the water hose and told the victim to hold the hose for ten minutes so another worker could run blue dye through it. He became suspicious and told the man he had to get ready for a doctor’s appointment and he would have to leave.

When he went back in his house he saw a short Hispanic female at the front door. The man introduced her as his partner. They left in a dark full size SUV that was parked out of view of the house behind his car.

The victim found some of his wife’s jewelry on the floor in the hallway. He realized eight of his wife’s gold chains were missing from the jewelry box and several other pieces of jewelry were missing from the bottom drawer valued at more than $5,000.00.

“A lot of that stuff is real personal, especially to her. One chain is something I gave her for our 50th anniversary,” the man said.

If you have elderly family members, please alert them to this – so they don’t become targets. 

Distraction burglaries have been reported throughout the Tampa Bay area. Recently, several incidents of distraction scams to elderly victims occurred in Auburndale, Lakeland, Lake Wales, Poinciana, and Sarasota.

It is believed the suspects are possibly working in a traveling group to scam the victims by posing as roofers or workers in order to gain access to the residence and steal money and/or jewelry. There is reason to believe this group is possibly gypsies traveling throughout the area.

Remember, if someone solicits you for business, Do not let them into your home, and do not go outside to speak with them. Ask for their business credentials. Call businesses to verify employment. Or simply post no soliciting signs on your home, and don’t answer the door. Alert law enforcement with any suspicious activity! If you see something, say something.

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