Warning Issued after Rise in Distraction Burglaries

Elderly warned to be on their guard following a huge increase

Older people in the local area are being warned to be on their guard against distraction burglary following a huge rise in incidents during October and November. More than 20 incidents have been reported to police across the borough, five of which occurred in Chiswick although Brentford residents were the hardest hit.

In the majority of cases, burglars pose as workers from the “water board”. Once they have gained access to a property, they pretend to be doing work, and steal cash and personal possessions.

The unprecedented rise in distraction incidents has prompted a crackdown called Operation Zagar. Police officers will be using a wide range of tactics to halt this criminal activity.

Hounslow Police are reminding older people in the borough to be vigilant of callers who call unannounced and claim to be from a utility company or statutory agency, like Hounslow Council.

Detective Chief Inspector Tim De Mayer, of Hounslow Police, said “This is an evil crime. Cowardly and dishonest criminals deliberately ruin the lives of decent, honest and vulnerable people - people who have worked hard for what little they have and who are in every sense the most undeserving of victims.This week, I am launching Operation Zagar which will use a range of policing tactics, overt and covert, to get this problem under control and put these criminals out of business. The more the public help us, the more successful we will be.”

Common ruses used by bogus officials include dressing smartly or wearing what might look like an official uniform. They might claim to be water board officials, meter readers, police officers or any other official sounding occupation.

They will often prey on a victim's fear - for example claiming that if they are not let in to check the water supply, the victim will be responsible for any damage. If posing as a meter reader, they will often claim they have a right to enter a property. Alternatively, offenders operate as bogus workmen, claiming that essential work needs doing. For example, they might say a leaking roof needs to be fixed.

Police are reminding residents of the tricks used by deception burglars to demonstrate warning signs, and re-issuing some good advice.
1. Remember, you do not have to open your door to cold callers and the best advice is "If in doubt, keep them out." Turn them away. That is your right. If you are at all suspicious of anyone, do not hesitate to call us via 999.
2. If someone calls who you do not recognise keep the door chain or door bar on. If you do have to open the door to speak with callers, make sure the door chain or door bar is put on first. Remember that you are under no obligation to speak with any cold callers. If you are not happy, you do not need to open your door.
3. The safest place for your money is in the bank. It's best not to keep large amounts of cash at home.
4. Many utility companies will have a verified password scheme. If you have registered for this scheme and the caller cannot give the password, do not let them in.
5. These burglars will often say that they are from the "water board", "gas board" or "electricity board." A genuine caller would never use such terms because "boards" ceased to exist when those industries were privatised. The burglars use phrases like this because they think that elderly residents will be familiar with them. If genuine, they will be from one of the privatised companies and will have photo identification to prove it. There should be a number to call so that you can confirm the caller is genuine. Any legitimate caller or official will not mind waiting outside while you ring the number to check.

November 22, 2006