CPD: Scammers fill pockets at seniors' homes

April 25, 2012 2:57:55 PM PDT
Chicago police issued a community alert on the South Side after a rash of thefts by suspects posing as utility employees or contractors.

Police say more than six victims have reported being ripped off since late January within a well-kept neighborhood bordered by Throop Street and Escanaba Avenue. Officials say the offenders are targeting seniors who live alone during the afternoon. The offenders chat up their victims to gain entry to the house, where they distract the seniors by asking for something like a glass of water or to check a light in another room.

"While that is occurring, other individuals enter the house. When they're inside the house, they try to fill their pockets. These are not people walking out with T.V.'S and radios. They are leaving with your jewelry or in a lot of instances elderly people keep a lot of cash on hand," Jonathon Harmening, Chicago Police Department, said.

Police say it's a familiar scam run by a group of Eastern European criminals who sometimes identify themselves as gypsies. They have hit more than half a dozen homes on the Southeast Side since late January. Phil Ledesma says a couple men posing as repairmen robbed his elderly neighbors a while back. He believes it was because they seemed vulnerable.

"Look at me. They'd got to be crazy. I think their odds are better with them than me," Ledesma said.

Police say the offenders have gotten away with thousands of dollars in cash, jewelry and other valuables. Generally they are inside the homes for less than 10 minutes. Detectives say seniors need to be cautious -- and their neighbors and family need to help.

" Take care of the elderly people. Your aunts, uncles, mothers, fathers, grandparents, check in on them. Let them know what is going on. Elderly people should not be holding a lot of cash in their homes," Harmening said.

Police say the offenders are mostly men and they tend to be pushy, but there is no evidence that they are violent.