West Covina and Arcadia police are cautioning the public Thursday of an ongoing crime trend in which San Gabriel Valley residents — primarily the elderly — are being targeted by burglars posing as workers on official business.
“Residential distraction burglaries,” as they’re known by police, have been on the rise over the past two years, and have spiked in the area in recent months, Arcadia police Lt. Tom LeVeque said in a written statement.
“This type of residential burglary is not unique to Arcadia, and has been reported throughout the San Gabriel Valley to other police agencies,” he said.
In the crimes, a burglar knocks at the front door claiming to represent a utility, construction company or official agency. The burglar then claims to need access to the victim’s home or backyard to perform work.
While inside, the burglar, with or without the help of a partner, steals victim’s belongings.
In addition to a spike in such crimes in Arcadia in recent months and years, four such crimes have been reported in West Covina since February, and three in the past month, West Covina police Cpl. Rudy Lopez said.
They occurred Feb. 11 in the 200 block of N. Lang Avenue; May 14 in the 1800 block of E. Merced Avenue; June 5 in the 2900 block of East Pinefalls Drive; and June 7 in the 1400 block of E. Verness Street, police said.
In all four recent West Covina burglaries, Lopez said, “The suspects said they were workers or contractors that needed to get into the backyard to cut trees (or) repair or build a back wall the thieves have told their victims they needed to perform work in the backyard, and request that the homeowner accompany them to the backyard.”
Judy Jensen, 73, has a close encounter with one of the burglars about 4 p.m. June 6, police said.
She said she lost jewelry, including her wedding rings, as well as a small amount of cash in the crime.
Jensen said she answered a knock at the door and was greeted by a man.
“The fellow said he was in construction, and he was going to re-do the fence in the backyard,” Jensen said. The burglar further told her that he had been hired by new neighbors to the rear to perform the work.
Jensen said the man brought the couple into the backyard and kept them occupied for 15 or 20 minutes, discussing the work he claimed he would be doing.
While distracted by the man, she said, “his accomplices probably snuck in the back.”
The man said he was finished and would return to complete the project Monday before leaving, Jensen said. The couple then realized jewelry and money had been stolen from their house.
“Needless to say, he didn’t come back on Monday,” she said.
Jensen added she was grateful no one was hurt in the crime, but wanted to warn other residents to beware.
In addition to performing backyard work, other ruses used by the burglars include checking on water pressure, tree trimming or even officials city business, according to Arcadia police.
“Many times, the suspect will say they need to check on water faucets and ask to enter the home,” LeVeque said.
“Anytime someone approaches you, or comes to your residence asking to come in or perform work, obtain identification and confirm their identity,” LeVeque said.
“There may be times when a City employee, gas, electric, telephone, water, or other service worker may require entrance to your exterior property,” he added. “Legitimate service workers should be in some form of uniform, have identification, and most likely be driving a clearly marked company vehicle. Unless you placed the service call, do not allow anyone access to your home.”
Anything suspicious should be reported to police immediately, LeVeque said.
While the trend of residential distraction burglaries is not a new one, the lieutenant said, “It is always good to remind our community about these crimes in order to increase awareness and help prevent them from occurring in the future.
“If you have older neighbors, friends, or relatives, please share this information with them and help increase their awareness to this type of crime,” he added.