Bethlehem police continue to warn town residents to be wary of a stranger who comes to their doorstep, claims to be a professional repair or maintenance worker, and harmlessly asks to enter the house or backyard with them, as if to inspect or fix something.
That stranger could potentially be part of a distraction burglary, where he or she interacts with the resident or walks with them to a certain part of the property, while an accomplice comes in to steal valuables or money, among other things.
Bethlehem Police Cmdr. Adam Hornick said that there have been several distraction burglaries in the past few weeks.
“In the Capital District, what we’re seeing a lot of is that they’re going inside while impersonating water department employees, electrical service employees or town municipal workers, and a lot of times, they’ll look the part,” Hornick said. “They’ll have gloves on, a vest on, a hard hat or a two-way radio and while one person is distracting the resident, they’ll use the two-radio as a way to say some type of code word or phrase, like ‘OK, the line looks good.’ But then that really means, ‘It’s time to go in the house, we have the people distracted.’ ”
Such burglars are generally professional career criminals who work in groups, commit some type of distraction, and usually target the elderly or places where there’s only one person physically on the property at a time.
They may determine how many people are present at home by watching how many vehicles are parked in the driveway, or if the resident is outside doing yard work.
One recent case that the police are still investigating occurred on Blessing Road on Tuesday, Nov. 1, around 12:45 p.m. A white male—who appeared to be in his 40s and sported a light-colored T-shirt, a vest, gloves and a baseball-style hat—approached a house, spoke to its resident and asked to “inspect some lines” in the back of the house.
As the resident and the male suspect went to the back of the house, the latter communicated with an unknown accomplice via a two-way radio.
By the time the male left, the resident realized that someone else had entered the house and took some money—Hornick said it was under $1,000 but could not reveal the exact amount.
The male had fled in a white four-door sedan, which was missing its front license plate, on Blessing Road towards Krumkill Road.
Bethlehem police suspect that this incident is connected to other recent distraction burglaries throughout the Capital District and have been investigating with law enforcement agencies from North Greenbush, Albany, Guilderland, Colonie and Niskayuna, as well as the Capital Region Crime Analysis Center.
“A distraction burglar has no problem walking right up to you, standing a few feet from you and letting you see their face,” Hornick said. “And that’s because they’re typically not from around this area here. It’s not like you’ll see them at the mall when you go shopping.”
He added that such a burglar often can be from another state and rents a vehicle, which is why they’re overall difficult to identify, further explaining why Bethlehem police are working with many other local law enforcement agencies.
Hornick advised residents to always be skeptical of any maintenance or repair worker who comes to their property unannounced, to ask for any identification first, and not be afraid to take extra time to confirm the worker’s alleged company by asking for any contact information.
The resident should try to look out to the road and see if the worker’s accompanying vehicle has any logo on it and double check—if the vehicle bears no logo at all, it should be deemed suspicious.
“Take a photo of them, as most people carry a phone on them at all times, and ask them, ‘Hey, do you mind if I take a picture of you and your vehicle?’ ” Hornick also suggested. “The so-called worker is going to find a reason to leave and if they start leaving, call 911 on your phone. Write down as much information and take as much photos as you can.”
He also noted that since it’s fall, a resident could very well be raking leaves outside for a half hour, leave his or her door unlocked, and a burglar may come inside and take just two minutes to steal something.
A more bold suggestion is to yell out for a neighbor which could cause the would-be burglar to flee.
However, actual service workers would wear uniforms, drive marked vehicles and readily show proper identification if asked.
“Legitimate workers know that these types of offenses occur and they won’t have a problem if you want to call to verify before letting them in,” Hornick said. “Town municipal workers should drive an official town vehicle with markings, but not a rental car.”
Hornick brought up how every year, Bethlehem police have to deal with usually 60 to 90 distraction burglaries committed at residences here.
“Each one is unique and a different modus operandi. Some of them are known offenders; some are drug-related; some burglars like to go in during the day; some go at night,” he said.
“In this case, it’s much more difficult for us because no one saw that second suspect get into the house.”
He concluded that residents should always lock their doors and close their garage doors to stay safe, especially when working outside the house.
Anyone with information relating to any recent distraction burglaries is encouraged to contact Bethlehem police at 518-439-9973.
Anonymous tips can be submitted via www.capitalregioncrimestoppers.com or by downloading the free P3 Tips app for any iOS or Android device.