After months of summertime heat, the arrival of cooler fall weather offers an opportunity for many of us to open our windows and enjoy the fresh air. It also means that our seasonal residents and winter visitors, many of whom are elderly, will be arriving soon to enjoy our mild climate. Unfortunately open doors and windows also signal an easy opportunity for criminals who often prefer to target elderly victims. For this reason I am once again offering some advice on how to avoid becoming the victim of a crime.
One of the best ways to prevent crime has always been to eliminate the opportunity for a crime to occur. For example, there are many ways to minimize you chances of becoming the victim of a burglary; however the most basic way to do so is to lock your doors and windows. If windows must be left open while you are away from your home, do not leave them open wide enough for a person to climb through. A window lock is suggested to prevent an intruder from forcing them open any wider. Other suggestions include the use of an alarm system, trimming vegetation away that blocks a clear view of possible entry points, and removing valuables from plain sight.
In addition to home burglaries, distraction type thefts also increase during the fall and winter months. Elderly victims are most often the target of these crimes in which the suspect has one main objective that is crucial to their success – getting inside a home. Over the years a wide variety of ruses have been used to perpetrate this type of crime, and they all involve conning the victim into allowing someone inside their home. Once inside the suspect distracts the victim in a specific area of the home as an accomplice enters surreptitiously and steals cash, jewelry, and other valuables. After the accomplice commits the crime, the suspect responsible for distracting the victim will complete their “work” and leave the home. In some cases the theft is discovered shortly afterward, but in some cases the crime may go undetected for several days or weeks.
Common diversions include a suspect posing as a repairman, a utility worker or a private contractor who arrives at a residence without an appointment. Reasons for entering a home have included testing water quality, water pressure, and the condition of sewer lines. Other techniques involve an outdoor distraction such as the unsolicited verification of property lines, and most recently as a pest control service specializing in snakes. In cases where a victim has been approached or lured outside, another suspect has entered the home through an unlocked door or window to commit a theft.
As Sheriff, I strongly recommend that you never allow a stranger inside your home for any reason without verifying a legitimate need for them to do so. Exercise caution when you are approached by a stranger. It is very important to remember that once they have been allowed inside your home; neither you nor your belongings are safe.
As always I recommend that if a repairman or utility employee arrives unexpectedly at your door, ask them for their identification and then have them wait outside while you call the service to verify their identification. Remember, you do not have to let them inside your home. If you are uncomfortable, you can tell them that you will call to make an appointment for another time. If they do not want to come inside but instead ask you to accompany them outside, lock your door behind you and make sure doors and windows that are out of your view are also locked.
If you believe someone is acting suspiciously, you should notify the Sheriff’s Office or your local police department to report your concerns right away. If possible write down a description of the person you are reporting as well as any companion, and remember to include a description of any vehicle they might be using for transportation.
By remaining vigilant you can help us achieve our goal of “Leading The Way For A Safer Pinellas.” If you would like additional crime prevention tips please contact the Sheriff’s Office Crime Prevention Unit at (727) 582-5611. additional information about how you can secure your vessel, contact the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Marine Enforcement Unit at (727) 518-3434. Preventing vessel theft is just one more way you can help us to achieve our goal of “Leading The Way For A Safer Pinellas.”