In light of some recent occurrences around the Tampa Bay area I find it necessary to once again remind Pinellas County residents of the need to be vigilant against distraction type thefts. Over the past few years several different versions of this crime have occurred in our area, but all involve a suspect creating some type of diversion as an accomplice enters a residence to commit a theft.
Common diversions include a suspect who poses as a utility worker or private contractor who arrives at a residence without an appointment to test water quality, water pressure, the condition of sewer lines, or to verify the accuracy of property lines. In reality this person is responsible for luring the victim outside, or to keep them distracted in a specific location within their home as another suspect surreptitiously enters. Once inside the home the second suspect searches quickly for cash, jewelry, or other valuables and leaves before being noticed. When the theft is complete, the first suspect concludes the "test" being performed, or makes an excuse that allows him or her to leave the scene and is never heard from again. In some cases the theft is detected minutes after it has occurred, however in most cases it is not discovered for an extended period of time.
Historically suspects who commit this type of crime have targeted the elderly when selecting a victim. The reasons for this vary, but our elderly residents are not the only people susceptible to becoming a victim of this type of crime. As Sheriff, I would like to remind everyone to use caution when approached by a stranger, and I strongly suggest that no one of any age should allow a stranger to enter his or her home for any reason without verifying a legitimate need for them to do so. It is very important to remember that once a stranger has made it inside, neither you nor your belongings are safe.
If a repairman or utility employee arrives unexpectedly at your door ask to show their identification and then have them wait outside while you verify that they are who they say they are. If you are still not satisfied that the person is legitimately who they say they are do not let them inside your home and tell them that you will call to make an appointment for another time. If they do not want to come inside but instead ask you to accompany them outside, lock your door behind you and make sure doors and windows that are out of your view are also secure.
Remember, if you believe someone is acting suspiciously you should notify the Sheriff's Office communication center or your local police department and report your concerns right away. If possible write down a description of the person you are reporting as well as any companion and include a description of any vehicle they might be using for transportation.
Crime prevention begins with simple suggestions like these, but only you can make them work. As always it is our goal to improve the quality of life and to ensure the safety of our citizens by "Leading The Way For A Safer Pinellas."