Surrey Police is warning elderly residents to be on their guard as officers investigate a series of distraction burglaries and thefts in which the offenders claim to be police officers.
Detectives are looking at around 30 incidents across the county where elderly people, often living alone, have been approached by offenders posing as police officers or UK Border officials to gain entry into homes.
Victims are approached by between one and three men in dark clothing either at their front door or discover they have entered their property through an insecure door. When confronted, the men often claim they are police officers investigating a crime and show false identification before stealing items.
In some cases the offenders have forced their way inside a property whilst the occupier is in another room or asleep and when challenged have claimed to be police officers.
Over the last three months offences have been reported in Elmbridge, Guildford, Spelthorne, Epsom, and Mole Valley. Last Friday evening (March 16) a 90-year-old woman in Hersham was targeted by thieves posing as police officers who showed her a false silver badge before stealing two handbags and a significant amount of cash. During the incident they pulled the victim’s handbag away from her causing her to fall to the floor and injure herself. She was treated in hospital for injuries to her hip.
In another incident in Surrey Heath, two offenders approached the home of an elderly woman and claimed to be police officers who had caught a thief in her garden. They asked to come in under the guise of needing to search the home for evidence but on this occasion nothing of value was taken.
Senior Investigating Officer Detective Inspector Karen Hughes said: “To target the most vulnerable members of our community in this way is despicable and cowardly. We are doing everything possible to find those responsible and anyone with information which could assist should contact police or call Crimestoppers anonymously
“Detectives are working closely with local Safer Neighbourhood Teams to gather information, look at CCTV and any forensic opportunities. We are also working with neighbouring police forces to see if these offences are occurring over a wider area.”
This week Crimestoppers offered a £5,000 reward for information about the offence in Hersham which left a woman requiring hospital treatment.
Neighbourhood Superintendent Sharon Bush said: “Across the county Safer Neighbourhood Teams are working with their local communities and partner agencies, particularly those who support the elderly, to raise awareness of these crimes. We need people to stay vigilant and report any suspicious behaviour to us.
“If you live next door to someone who is vulnerable or have elderly relatives living alone please remind them to keep their doors secure even when they are at home and take precautions when answering the door to strangers. If you are not expecting the caller keep your door locked and ask to see some identification - perhaps through a window or letterbox. If you decide to open the door, engage the chain and keep it engaged until you are completely sure the caller is genuine. Genuine police officers will not mind waiting outside whilst you phone the Surrey Police switchboard on 101 to confirm their identity.
“If you do find intruders in your home, your personal safety is the priority. Stay calm and raise the alarm as soon as possible by calling the police.”
RESIDENTS are being advised to be extra vigilant following two distraction offences in west Surrey yesterday (Thursday, 26 January) in which suspects have claimed to be police officers.
In Lightwater, an 86-year-old woman opened her front door to two men, one of whom said he was a policeman and had two boys in his car who he believed had been in the householder’s garden having stolen money. The resident allowed the uninvited callers inside and went to go upstairs to check if anything was stolen, before realising she had no cash in the house. The intruders left without taking anything. The incident happened sometime between 5.55pm and 6.50pm.
The suspects are described as two white men. The first is described as 5ft 9” tall, in his late thirties and of a medium build, with short dark brown hair. He was wearing a navy blue suite, navy blue duffle style jacket and a shirt and tie.
The second suspect is described as 5ft 6” tall, of a similar age to the first suspect and of a dumpy build. He had dark hair and was wearing similar style clothing to his colleague.
In a second incident in the Sheerwater area of Woking, three men gained entry into a property where the resident had been asleep at around 8.50pm. The householder was disturbed and got up to find one man in the doorway and asked what he was doing there. The suspect said he was a police officer and produced what appeared to be a warrant card.
He told the 56-year-old resident that they had found a homeless boy climbing through the window and the victim was required at the police station for interview. A second man, also impersonating a police officer, pretended to detain a young man.
The victim refused to go with the suspects and said he was going to call the police instead. The offenders then said they had the wrong man and left the property empty handed via the front door.
The first suspect who spoke to the resident is described as being in his mid thirties, around 5ft 8” tall and of a medium build with a big nose. He spoke with what is described as an Albanian accent and was wearing a dark winter jacket with a dark baseball cap.
The second suspect is described as being a man, between 5ft 4” and 5ft 6” tall. The third man is described as being white, 6ft tall, between 18 and 20-years-old and of a slim build. He was clean shaven with a clear fresh complexion. He was wearing a snood style face covering, similar to that worn by a motorcyclist.
Surrey Police is appealing for anyone who may recognise the descriptions of these offenders or who may have seen the suspects acting suspiciously in the vicinity around the time of the incidents, to contact officers as soon a possible.
Surrey Police recommends that if a resident is in any doubt as to the identity of a caller and posing as a police officer that they do not open the door, they ask for the officer’s identity number and that they call 101 to verify that the person is genuine.
Detective Inspector Andy Haslam said: “These are cruel and cowardly crimes which prey on the more vulnerable in our communities and we are advising residents to stay vigilant. Neighbours of elderly homeowners can help by making them aware of the potential pitfalls and keeping an eye out for suspicious people around their properties.
“Under no circumstances should you let an unexpected visitor into your home. Always stop to think whether you are expecting any callers, use the chain if you do decide to answer the door and check for identification before letting anyone in. Don’t be taken in by these con artists, however convincing their story may sound.
“Similarly it is imperative that all residents remain vigilant about home security and ensure that windows and doors are securely locked. If you are in need of crime prevention advice please contact your Safer Neighbourhood Team and speak to the Crime Reduction Advisor.”
Anyone with information is asked to contact Surrey Police on 101 quoting reference Sh/12/337 or WK/12/539.GD/10/2113. Alternatively Crimestoppers can be contacted anonymously and free of charge on 0800 555 111.
The following security tips are recommended by Surrey Police:
• Keep doors locked and windows secure at all times. Use spy holes to see the caller and if you do open the door, use a door chain if you have one.
• If you do let somebody in to your home, close the door behind them – distraction burglars often work in teams, where one will distract you whilst others sneak in through the insecure door.
• Don’t keep large quantities of cash at home; put it in the bank where it is safe.
• If you suspect a bogus caller is at your door call the police
http://www.surrey.police.uk/home.asp for further details