In yet another of what has been a fast-growing crime trend, a suspect posing as utility workers diverted a San Marino resident into her Lorain Rd. back yard at 4:00 p.m. last Wednesday, clearing the way for a cohort to enter the residence and steal a safe and other valuables before fleeing the scene.
The same duo was apparently turned away by a Roanoke Rd. resident a half hour earlier when the men – described as two male Hispanics wearing blue long-sleeve work shirts and blue baseball caps, possibly with the logo of a tree service patch on the front of the cap – attempted a similar ruse. That resident refused to go into the back yard and the suspects fled in a white, late-model “work truck,” according to the San Marino Police Department.
The Roanoke resident then called the Edison Company – the firm the two men claimed they were representing – and was told there were no workers assigned to the area.
The resident then notified the San Marino Police Department, who after a search were unable to locate the suspects or vehicle.
They are known in the crime-fighting world as deception burglaries and incidents are on the rise, according to San Marino Police Chief Tim Harrigan. In March, one San Marino family was pilfered of more than $200,000 in cash and jewelry when an Asian man claimed to be a city inspector sent to the property to evaluate an underground utility project. The suspect – who is still presumably at large – wore a tan cap that said ‘city inspector’ across the front and carried a badge attached to a lanyard that identified him as an employee of the City of San Marino.
“These crimes have happened in other other communities as well,” said Harrigan, indicating that Alhambra has reported similar incidents and the L.A.P.D. has mentioned the technique.
“We are not sure if they are connected, but the motive is similar.”
By police definition, a deception burglary is a burglary committed by person(s) that gain entry to the home by posing as an employee of a particular company. This includes, but is not limited to, utility companies, delivery companies and construction companies such as UPS, Federal Express, Edison and city employees.
Harrigan said yesterday that he has been in contact with Southern California Edison and alerted them that their name has been used in connection with the deception.
“It is my understanding that if Edison conducts any business at a home, they will notify you in advance,” Harrigan said. “We also encourage our residents to confirm with an employer any time someone shows up at their house. You are also welcome to contact the San Marino Police Department and we would be glad to respond and validate their credentials.”
The Chief also said that the holidays often bring an increase in crime.
“Be more alert coming into the holiday season,” said Harrigan. “Be aware that criminals will also pose as couriers, delivering gifts and other items in an effort to case the home or commit a crime. Criminals this time of year will also take advantage of people’s generosity by soliciting donations and gifts. We encourage residents to confirm the identity of the individual or organization prior to donating. If you are going to be away from home during the holidays, let a friend or relative know. You may contact the SMPD and take advantage of our House Watch program. Remember to suspend mail service and newspaper delivery and leave a light on or a radio hooked to a timer.”
“Make your home look as though it is lived in,” said Harrigan. “Plug-in timers are cheap and they are easy to use.”
He also warned against internet crimes, such as those perpetrated through Craig’s List or EBay and other online services.
The SMPD also released these suggestions to avoid being the victim of a deception burglary:
*Stay inside your home
*Don’t open your door
*There is no need to invite anyone into your home
*If possible, verify a visitor’s ID through a peephole. To verify an Edison employee’s ID, you can call (800) 655-4555. To verify a City of San Marino employee, you can call (626) 300-0700. If you cannot verify the I.D. or if you feel unsafe or suspect criminal activity, call 911 immediately.
“Don’t open the door to anyone,” Harrigan concluded. “If you start to question someone who has gained entry into your home, it may turn into a home invasion burglary. Stay in your home. Get identification and call the company or the city first. If you start doing any of those things, the suspect will probably leave.”
A San Marino man who was brutally assaulted in December had also opened his front door to a suspect who had knocked on the door and told the resident he had left his car lights on. The resident was assaulted when he stepped out of the front door to investigate.
Modern computer technology and the proliferation of customized apparel have provided burglars with added ammunition as a fake identification badge can be created in minutes and authentic-looking clothing and accessories are available within days.
San Marino city street employees work in the field from 7:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. One can confirm the identification of an employee by calling 300-0700. All street employees wear orange shirts that are labeled ‘City of San Marino’ and brown shorts and pants. All street vehicles are identified with the City Seal on the side door.
Fire Chief Jim Frawley said that his employees only enter a neighborhood if there is a fire-related complaint or a need for brush clearance. The SMFD also performs annual inspections of San Marino businesses. He said that all firefighters and paramedics will appear in an official uniform and provide a badge and photo ID.
“We might knock on the door and leave a notice, but we will never attempt to enter your residence or property unless there is an emergency,” Frawley said. “We will always arrive in a fire department vehicle and we try to park it within sight of a residence. And we are never offended is a resident verifies our employment.”
The San Marino Fire Department’s non-emergency line is 300-0735.
Several years ago, criminals wearing firefighter business outfits that appeared to be authentic targeted businesses in the Mission District, brandishing letters claiming that the property’s fire extinguishers needed to be replenished and recertified. The criminals would attempt to get $50 for work to be performed the next day by trained technicians – who would never materialize.
“Under no circumstances will a legitimate business solicit any fire-related equipment sales or repairs for fire alarms, extinguishers or other items,” said Frawley. “Those are services that must be contacted by a business owner. A legitimate company will not enter your place of business seeking money or a contract.”
“Do everything in your power to get proper identification,” Harrigan said. “If you feel you need to contact the San Marino Police Dept., don’t hesitate in making that call.”
Anyone with information pertaining to the crimes may call Detective Sergeant Aaron Blondé at (626) 300-0722.
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