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Orland Park News

Posted on: April 11, 2014

Orland Park Police Warn of Ruse Burglaries Targeting Seniors

“Ruse burglary” is a term used by the police to describe burglaries that occur when criminals attempt to distract a person or people from their home so that an accomplice can enter from another door and steal cash, jewelry and other items.

“We’re reaching out to the community to make people aware of the groups that are targeting senior citizens throughout the Chicago area,” said Orland Park Mayor Dan McLaughlin. “We want everyone to pay attention to their neighborhoods and report anything that looks suspicious,” the mayor said.

Criminal groups that prey on seniors are oftentimes responsible for repair fraud, burglaries, home invasions, confidence crimes and insurance scams. They target the elderly because they’re accessible.

“As a prosecutor, I have seen an increase in the number of ruse burglaries in Cook County,” said Trustee Dan Calandriello, chair of the village’s Public Safety Committee. We -- as a community – need to talk to our senior family members, neighbors and friends to make them all aware of these people targeting this age group,” he said.

Seniors are targeted because they are usually home and are oftentimes eager to speak with people who approach them. Seniors are willing to comply with “authority” figures like those claiming to be from a utility and need to get into a home. Other distractions used include claims of being with the village or a tree trimming company.

A similar ruse occurred on October 28, 2013 on Briarwood Lane in Orland Park. A man approached the homeowner while he was in the backyard and said he was “from the county” and that they were going to clean up the ditch behind his home. The man asked the homeowner to follow him to the far end of the property.

A few minutes later, the homeowner’s wife screamed from inside of the home that two men were inside. She had been asleep in an upstairs room and awoke to two men calling out “Hello!” several times. She saw one of the men coming out of the master bedroom and chased him and another man out of the house. The three fled in a gray van without stealing anything from the house.

“Homeowners often discover that valuables like jewelry, gold coins and cash kept in houses have been stolen,” said Orland Park Police Chief Tim McCarthy.

“We have found that there is limited reporting of crimes against the elderly for many reasons. First, the victim may not realize that they have been burglarized or defrauded. More often than not, the elderly victim is embarrassed and wants to keep the news of losses from friends and relatives. They can be afraid of losing their independence and reporting a burglary may result in someone else taking over their affairs,” the chief explained.

One of the four national goals of the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration of Aging is to ensure the rights of the elderly and prevent their abuse, neglect and exploitation. This same goal is part of the Illinois State Plan on Aging. The Illinois State Police Ruse Burglary Task Force (ISPRBTF) was created to identify and prosecute criminal groups that prey on the elderly and to educate seniors and their families on how not to fall prey to these groups’ deceptive practices. The task force offers crime prevention techniques that they share with senior citizens’ groups.

All solicitors in the Village of Orland Park must wear clearly visible Police Department issued badges showing they have applied for a solicitor’s permit and have been screened by the Police Department. The badges must be worn at all times going door to door. All residents should look for the police issued badges whenever someone comes to their homes.

“If a solicitor comes to your home, before answering the door, try to locate and remember what kind of vehicle he or she is driving. Take note of the make, model, color and type,” McCarthy said. “Make a mental note of what they’re wearing and other physical characteristics,” he said.

If a resident chooses to speak with a solicitor or a utility worker, be sure the other doors of the home are locked and/or attended. Never give strangers access to the yard, home or garage and immediately dial 9-1-1 to report suspicious people asking for access to the property.

“The Cook County State’s Attorneys’ Office includes crimes against the elderly in its senior outreach programs and the Orland Park Police Department is working closely with the Illinois State Police Ruse Task Force to develop new strategies to address this type of crime,” Calandriello said.

“These people will use any excuse imaginable to gain access to a senior’s property or home,” McCarthy said. Past reports have included inquiries about water supply or water pressure, offers to repair gutters or fences, tree trimming or landscaping. Offers of blacktop or driveway repair have been used as well as false statements about problems at a neighbor’s house.

Asking about homes for sale in the neighborhood is oftentimes used to gain access as are using fear tactics associated with claiming to be from a utility company.

“We’ve heard reports of these people saying that there is something wrong with the gas or electric or other utilities, using a fear tactic that the senior might be in danger of fire or destruction because of a utility problem,” Calandriello said.

Ruse burglaries have also included claiming to be a new neighbor who wants to show the homeowner where they’re planning to erect a fence, install a drainage pipe or some other type of major construction.

The mayor added, “With the weather warming up, more people will be outside. Get to know your neighbors and keep an eye on things in your neighborhood. Don’t hesitate to call the police if something doesn’t look right.”

To prevent ruse burglaries, all homeowners should demand to see employer issued identification for all callers claiming to be from the village or a utility company. Village of Orland Park employees wear photo identification badges and the Public Works Department can be called at 708/403-6350 to confirm a village employee’s identify.

“Most people recognize the vehicles that travel through their neighborhoods,” Calandriello said. “If you see a strange vehicle at a senior neighbor’s house, walk over and knock on the door to ask if everything is okay. If it seems suspicious, call the police,” he added.

Refuse to accompany strangers to the backyard unless you are absolutely certain it is a legitimate request. Lock the doors to the house before going outside or be sure someone inside is attending the door. Do not ever let strangers into your home. Call the police immediately if a stranger seems suspicious. Get to know your neighbors to stay informed about activity in the neighborhood. All residents should check on their elderly neighbors to be sure they are safe.

“Ruse burglaries are occurring across the country and throughout the Chicagoland area,” McLaughlin said, adding, “With baby boomers aging, the senior population is growing. In Orland Park, we are going to do all that we can to protect our seniors.”