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Ruse Burglars Pose As Water Department, Electrical Workers: Cops

Patch logo Patch 2/26/2021 Lorraine Swanson
a truck that has a sign on the side of a road: Oak Lawn police are investigating two ruse burglaries that occurred between Feb. 22 and Feb. 24, 2021. © Lorraine Swanson/Patch Oak Lawn police are investigating two ruse burglaries that occurred between Feb. 22 and Feb. 24, 2021.

OAK LAWN, IL — Two ruse burglaries happened in as many days within a block of one other on the west end of Oak Lawn. In both instances, the homeowners were elderly. The suspects posed as utility workers to gain entrance into their respective homes, police said.

Around 4:30 p.m., Feb. 22, officers went to the 8700 block of Natoma Ave. The elderly homeowners were extremely shaken up, police said. The wife was noticeably crying. She was offered an ambulance but said she was okay.

The couple was sitting around the house when their back doorbell rang. The husband opened the door and saw two men he described to police as being "Hispanic." His wife thought there were three men. Both agreed that one of men was short and "husky," wearing an orange construction vest and had a “walkie-talkie,” the report said. The other man was tall and skinny, and wearing a black jacket. The third man was also wearing a black jacket. All three wore face masks, so the couple was unable to describe their faces.

The men “aggressively entered” the couple's home and identified themselves as water department employees. The man in the orange vest walked over to the kitchen sink. He told the husband to wash their pots and pan with bleach, and instructed the wife to follow him downstairs. As she turned around to follow him into the basement, she noticed one of the other men leaving the second floor of her home.

She screamed “what are you doing,” and yelled at them to get out of her house. As the men left, they told the couple they were going to their neighbors’ house. The men got into a black SUV parked on their driveway. The husband watched the SUV drive off, but was unsure which direction it was headed.

The report was delayed by ten minutes because the wife was so frightened, she kept calling 411 instead of 911. The husband said he thought the men were real utility workers because of the one wearing an orange vest and having a radio. The officer walked through the couple’s house, but nothing appeared to be missing. He told the couple they were victims of a ruse burglary, where perpetrators target senior citizens and falsely claim to be utility workers to get into homes. Police combed the block for home security video.

A few days later, on Feb. 24, police responded to a delayed report of a ruse burglary in the 6700 block of 93rd Place. The elderly homeowner was outside sweeping snow off her property around 12:30 p.m. and was headed back to the house, when she noticed a dark-colored SUV parked in her driveway. She told police that a “Hispanic male” was standing at her front door. Police said the woman did not see if there were other accomplices.

She described the man as being around 5-feet-9-inches tall with a medium build, and wearing dark-colored clothing and a face mask. He said he worked for ComEd and that transformer in the neighborhood blew out. He needed to check her outlets, the report said.

Police said the elderly homeowner let the man inside. They both went to the kitchen. The man plugged a light into the outlet and told the woman to watch it. The whole time he spoke to someone on the phone in a foreign language. He told the woman to keep watching the outlet while he checked out the others in the house.

The woman said she didn’t feel right about the situation. She told the man her power was working and didn’t need his help anymore. He offered to give her a generator, but she declined, the report said. She claimed she was watching the man the whole time he was in her house. Another family member was sleeping in a bedroom.

The officer and the woman walked around the house. A bedroom door was open as well as a closet. A jewelry box was open, but nothing inside appeared to be missing.

Residents who live in the area are asked to check their home security systems for suspicious vehicles matching the description of the dark-colored SUV, and other suspicious activities. If you think you have on your security camera, or possibly saw something around the time of the burglaries, call the Oak Lawn Police Department at 708-422-8292.

Tips to share with older family members or neighbors

Ruse burglars are part of a larger criminal enterprise. They’ll drive around neighborhoods casing houses for elderly homeowners working outside or relaxing in the yard. They’ll engage the homeowners in conversation, offering to do home repairs (usually substandard work) or posing as utility workers. The whole time they will be assessing the senior’s mental capacities. Here are a few tips to help prevent older family members and neighbors from becoming victims of ruse burglaries:

  • Younger family members are encouraged to “role-play” with older loved ones or friends, who may not be tech-savvy or on social media to work out a plan should ruse burglars coming knocking on their door pretending to buy a car that isn’t advertised or to check the gas meter.
  • Be aware of anyone coming to your door or approaching you for unsolicited business. Always keep the storm door knocked.
  • When outside gardening or cleaning the yard, carry a house key in your pocket and keep the doors to the home locked. Have a cell phone handy to call 911 should suspicious persons approach you.
  • Take note of any vehicles in the area—cars, vans, trucks—that are suspicious or seem out of place, particularly those with missing front and/or rear license plates, or vehicles that appear to be in shabby conditions without identifying business markings on the sides.
  • Request identification from the person who approaches and tell them you will verify any work to be conducted in the area with the police. If they're legit they will stand by while you call police and present credentials, however, if they’re up to something nefarious, when the bad guys see that you’re calling police, they’ll leave.
  • Keep jewelry and other valuables and cash in a safe place, preferably a bank safe deposit box.
  • Ruse burglars are usually non-violent, but don't confront them. If they're inside your house, get to a phone if you can and call 911. You don't have to speak to the operator, just lay the LAN line or cell phone down.
  • Most ruse burglars are only in the house for five minutes or less. If you can't get to a phone, try to get a license plate number and note the direction where the offenders are heading. Call 911 immediately after they leave, so police have a better chase of nabbing them.

These tips were provided by retired OLPD detective and senior liaison Tom Cronin.

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