Residents of Elmhurst and surrounding communities periodically fall victim to ruses where the perpetrators gain unlawful entry to their homes. In most cases, no force is used, but offenders often target elderly residents who may be easily confused or persuaded to allow the offender(s) inside. Unfortunately, many residents then feel embarrassed about falling victim to a scam and fail to report it to the police.
About the Offenders
In this type of scam, offenders are usually male subjects of various ages who operate in groups of 2-4. They are often described as Hispanic but commonly are actually associated with a European criminal “gypsy” culture. They are not usually dressed in utility worker uniforms and usually arrive in newer-model SUVs, vans or pickup trucks that may have temporary license plates and/or no front plate. The subjects pose as new neighbors, utility workers, repairmen, or contractors, and they target elderly residents either by the appearance of the residence or by observing the occupants in the yard, the car, the garage, or retrieving their mail.
One offender will usually approach the victim quickly, engaging them in "fast talk" conversation and offering home repair work. Or, they simply enter the home and walk past the resident, stating that they need to check on the electrical or plumbing work, or some other reported problem. They then keep the victim engaged and do not allow him or her to use the phone or walk away from them. Another method is to ask the victim to come outside to check trees or power lines at the rear of the yard. In either case, other accompanying offenders will enter the house without the homeowner's consent and search for valuables.
These con artists are professional thieves who are very good at locating even hidden valuables. They don’t spend much time at the house, and, by the time the resident realizes what is happening, it’s too late.
Other common scams include:
• Young adults calling for Grandma or Grandpa asking for help because they’ve been arrested out of the country and need bond money to be wired. These are clever scams because when they hear a voice saying, “Grandma, it’s me . . . I need help,” the grandparent usually responds with the name of their grandchild, saying, “Johnny, is that you?” The offender is then armed with the name of his/her “character,” and, if Grandpa or Grandma starts to have doubts, can use their false identity to convince them, saying, “Grandma, it’s Johnny, remember? Help me, I need money right away.”
• Phone calls that are supposedly from the IRS saying you owe money and will be arrested if you don’t wire money or provide a credit card or banking information immediately. THE IRS WILL NOT CONTACT YOU BY TELEPHONE OR EMAIL! If the IRS needs to reach you, they will do so through the U.S. Mail, and you will never have to provide immediate funds without time for explanation.
Tips for Preventing a Scam
Residents are reminded to:
• Always lock all doors, even when out in your yard.
• Do not open the door for someone you don’t know or haven’t called for service. Your generation is very trusting, which unfortunately makes you an easy victim.
• Call 9-1-1 if someone you don’t know is at your door. This is not an inconvenience to the police; we will gladly come and check on things.
• Maintain the exterior of your home. An outdated appearance or the need for even minor repairs can be an indicator to the con artist of a potential victim.
• If you see a suspicious vehicle that appears to be surveying the area, contact 9-1-1.
• Carry a cell phone at all times, especially when outside of your residence.
• Have a network of friends or neighbors who can look out for you.
• Always report suspected criminal activity to the police. You’re not alone as a victim.
Family members or relatives of elderly residents should share this safety information with their loved ones. Also, neighbors are encouraged to be attentive for activity placing their elderly neighbors at risk.
The Elmhurst Police Department also hosts monthly meetings of the Seniors and Law Enforcement Together (SALT) where these type of topics are discussed. For more information, contact the Police Department at (630) 530-3050.