TRANSIENT CRIMINALS TARGETING THE ELDERLY IN PENNSYLVANIA
Residents of Pennsylvania, especially the elderly, continue to be victimized by transient, organized criminal groups who are experts in committing confidence and distraction-based crimes. These criminal groups, often members of “Gypsy” or “Traveler” communities, routinely travel across local and state jurisdictional boundaries in search of elderly victims who might be in declining health, have poor vision, and are easily confused.
Recently, there has been a rash of thefts in the Pittsburgh area, including in Mt. Lebanon, that have followed a pattern similar to the crimes perpetrated by these transient criminals. These incidents have involved thieves who frequently work in pairs and try to distract a resident, giving them time to commit the theft. MLPD wants to make everyone aware of these incidents and encourage residents share this information with their elderly family members and neighbors. Anyone who encounters any suspicious persons or activities in or around their residence is encouraged to call 9-1-1 immediately.
Some of the common methods used by these criminals include:
Victim outside – if a home owner is observed working outside of the residence, one suspect will distract the homeowner with any number of questions while the unseen ones go through the house. The suspects will sometimes portray themselves as construction or utility workers, and may ask for access to the basement of the residence.
Victim inside home – if the door is unlocked, the subjects enter the dwelling. If the door is locked, the suspects knock or ring the bell. When contact is made with the homeowner, (either when answering the door or if accosting the suspect inside the home) one or two suspects distract the homeowner and direct them toward the kitchen with such ruses as:
- Feigning illness and asking for a drink of water
- Pretending to have a package to deliver to a neighbor
- Asking for paper to leave a note for a neighbor
- Asking if the house is for sale, flowers for sale etc.
- Looking for a lost dog or cat
- ASKING TO USE THE RESTROOM
Once the homeowner is distracted, the unseen suspect(s) go through the house looking for currency, jewelry and silver. The suspects may also hold up a sheet or blanket to mask the entrance of other suspects.
If no one is home, the suspects will gain entry by jimmying a spring latch lock, breaking a window near a door and reaching in and unlocking, prying or breaking a sliding glass patio door or a window and climbing in, if no less visible method can be used to enter.
There is usually no or very little sign of ransacking, as the suspects very carefully go through the residence searching for items like jewelry, cash, etc., taking only the most valuable and putting everything back into its place. After the suspects leave, the homeowner may not immediately realize that anything was taken.
Some of the characteristic vehicle traits to look out for include:
- Pickup trucks and construction type vehicles
- Rental vehicles
- Display magnetic advertisement signs depicting a business or service
- After-market window tinting and white-wall tires
- Out-of-state registration plates (Texas, Florida, and Illinois are common) or vehicles recently registered in Pennsylvania
- Tools, paint or sealant spray, ladders, and driveway repair equipment in the bed of pickup trucks
- Magnetic amber warning beacons on the trucks
- Rug or sheet in the bed of the truck which is used to flip over the tailgate to conceal the license plate
MOST IMPORTANTLY…if you see ANYTHING suspicious, please call 9-1-1 immediately. Transient criminal move from one location to another quickly, and immediate reporting can help immensely in catching these criminals.