Cops advise seniors to watch out for scammers

There are prob­ably un­lim­ited ways to rile up your neigh­bors. Here’s a new one:

A young man offered to clear the trash and dead plants off a prop­erty on the 6900 block of East­wood Street for $10. The homeown­er said OK, ac­cord­ing to her neigh­bor, who asked not to be named. However, in­stead of haul­ing away the trash and debris, the guy threw it over a fence onto the neigh­bor’s prop­erty.

“I came home and there was trash all over my lawn,” the neigh­bor said. She re­cog­nized some of trash was from the ad­ja­cent prop­erty and com­plained to that homeown­er, who then cleaned up the mess.

Not the biggest scam in that it in­volved only 10 bucks and a lot of cleanup, but it’s in­dic­at­ive of what some people will do to get over on oth­ers.

It’s a new one on the cops, said Capt. Frank Palumbo, the 2nd Dis­trict’s com­mand­er, but the real prob­lem is that nobody re­por­ted these in­cid­ents to po­lice, which then keeps these con artists out on the streets, free to keep their schemes alive.

“Call 911,” Palumbo said dur­ing an April 4 in­ter­view at dis­trict headquar­ters on Levick Street. “I can’t em­phas­ize that strongly enough. Call us. You’re not both­er­ing us.”

As­sor­ted schemes are spring things in Philly.

Just as daf­fodil and tulip bulbs are push­ing growth out of the ground, guys turn up on North­east door­steps try­ing to push their way in­to homes, hop­ing to con people out of cash or swipe their valu­ables.

“They gen­er­ally show up as the weath­er warms up,” the cap­tain said, adding the scam­mers are from out of the area, trav­el­ing from one jur­is­dic­tion to an­oth­er. 

Al­most al­ways, these out-of-town crooks, or “trav­el­ers,” tar­get older res­id­ents who they feel are easi­er to in­tim­id­ate or co­erce, Palumbo said. Most vic­tims, the cap­tain said, are at least 70 years old. In the 2nd Dis­trict, he said, they seem to fa­vor homes north of Tyson Av­en­ue.

There’s one scheme that is used so of­ten you might call it a clas­sic:

A guy shows up at a door in what looks like a util­ity com­pany uni­form. He tells the homeown­er there is some sort of emer­gency and he has to check some pipes in the base­ment. The man at the door is only a dis­trac­tion. Fre­quently, as the homeown­er ac­com­pan­ies the phony gas man or Wa­ter De­part­ment work­er down­stairs, an ac­com­plice gets in­to the house and starts search­ing for stuff to steal.

“They do this be­cause it works. … They’re good at search­ing areas of a house where older people might stash valu­ables,” Palumbo said.

Most of these crooks are men, Palumbo said, but last year, a wo­man got in­to homes by ask­ing to use a phone to re­port an emer­gency.

“Un­der no cir­cum­stances, let any­one in­to your home,” he said. When tar­gets tell the people at their doors that they are check­ing with their com­pan­ies, they usu­ally leave, the cap­tain said.

Stephanie Ahrndt, the 2nd’s vic­tim as­sist­ance of­ficer, has put to­geth­er a sheet of tips to help people avoid be­ing vic­tim­ized.

One scam in­volves adults com­ing with chil­dren, ask­ing for a drink for the kids. Once in­side, they steal.

“It could be a young or preg­nant wo­man at the door,” ac­cord­ing to Ahrndt. “These scam­mers come in all shapes and sizes.”

She also ad­vised be­ing sus­pi­cious of any con­tract­ors of­fer­ing cheap and quick home re­pairs, and nev­er pay up front.

An­oth­er scheme po­lice are see­ing this year in­volves phony car re­pairs. The vic­tim is spot­ted out­side and told there is a dent on a car that an ac­com­mod­at­ing stranger can fix for a very good price.

“The of­fer nor­mally is too good to be true,” Palumbo said.

And, the work turns out to be shoddy and the de­man­ded pay­ment is much, much high­er than the vic­tims re­call be­ing quoted, he said.

The North­east Times re­por­ted an ex­ample of this scam on March 26. A 94-year-old World War II vet­er­an was cheated out of pay­ment for re­pair of a “wob­bling wheel” on his car. Some­body tried to pull a sim­il­ar trick on an­oth­er seni­or cit­izen, but she didn’t fall for it and no­ti­fied po­lice, said Capt. Shawn Trush.

Trush, com­mand­er of the North­east De­tect­ive Di­vi­sion, also em­phas­ized the im­port­ance of telling po­lice about scams, but he said he real­ized some seni­or cit­izens don’t want their fam­il­ies to know they’ve been had.

“They’re afraid they’ll lose their in­de­pend­ence,” he said, so they keep quiet.

And, he said, all kinds of people be­come vic­tims.

“All oc­cu­pa­tions get swindled,” he said. ••

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