Reports by Emma Brennan
Friday, January 4, 2013
POLICE are urging Suffolk residents to be vigilant against distraction burglars after a spate of incidents across the county.
WHEN Sudbury resident Phyllis became the victim of doorstep crime she was so unsettled by the experience that she moved out of the house she had occupied for more than 60 years and into sheltered accommodation.
Recalling the incident, she said: “I am 92 and had lived on my own for 30 years after my husband died. Then a man came to my door one day and asked if I needed some leaves clearing from my garden. While I went outside with him to look, another man went into my house and stole my purse and some small silver ornaments.”
Phyllis said she remembered feeling very embarrassed when she realised what had happened.
She added: “I didn’t want to tell the police because I thought they would think I was stupid, so I told a neighbour first.
“In the end I didn’t want to go to the door in case it happened again. I didn’t want to move out of my house but I didn’t feel safe any more. Where I live now there is a buzzer with an intercom so I don’t have to open the door.”
Suffolk Constabulary’s crime prevention officer David Kane described distraction burglary – where thieves con their way into a home and steal things – as a “despicable crime” because it preys upon the good nature of vulnerable people.
Those sentiments were echoed by the charity Age UK Suffolk, which said this type of offence could have devastating long-term effects on older people, leaving them feeling vulnerable in their own homes.
In the past week police have dealt with three cases of distraction burglary in the county. The spate of incidents has prompted the East Anglian Daily Times to re-launch its Safe in Your Home campaign.
On Wednesday, a man visited a property in Park Road, Sudbury, and told the female resident, in her 70s, that he needed to read the gas and electricity meter. She challenged him and he left.
The same day, two men tricked their way into the home of an 84-year old woman in Kirkley Cliff Road, Lowestoft, by claiming they were taking rubbish away from a neighbouring property and needed to leave a written message. In a further incident in Whitby Road, Ipswich, two men asked the female resident to take a parcel for a neighbour. When she agreed, the men entered the property and stole cash from a cupboard.
According to police crime figures, the number of reported distraction burglaries across Suffolk has dropped significantly from 100 in 2006 to just 19 last year. But Age UK Suffolk information manager Helen Taylor believes there are many more incidents that go undetected.
She said: “We know that bogus caller incidents go unreported because people feel that they have been foolish to be ‘taken in’. The problem is that anyone who becomes the target of a bogus caller loses much more than their money and property. The loss of confidence and belief in one’s ability to live independently is an equally huge blow.”
Miss Taylor said the recent incidents highlighted the need to educate and empower older people across Suffolk, adding: “They need to know that it is perfectly acceptable to turn away anyone who calls at the door if they are not expected, or if there are any doubts at all about who they are.”
According to crime prevention officer David Kane, the drop in reported incidents of distraction burglaries is down to a partnership between organisations such as the police, trading standards, Age UK and the British Legion. They have started initiatives and produced information leaflets that are distributed through such diverse outlets as schools and pharmacies.
Mr Kane warned that although most distraction burglars were opportunists, offenders tended to strike at certain times of the year.
“We often find that the tactics used by distraction burglars are related to the season,” he said. “For example, if there’s been heavy rain, one person might knock on the door and say they have noticed your gutters are leaking, while another person will slip in to the house via the back door.”
He said that protecting yourself against distraction burglars could be a simple process, adding: “The majority of people who call on homes are genuine but we would like people to be aware of potential criminals and to take some simple steps to avoid becoming a victim. We are not asking people to install elaborate security systems – it really can be as simple as making sure you keep your doors locked, even when you are at home.”