Police hold seminar in Beverly to fight widespread problem of ruse burglaries
BY STEVE METSCH firstname.lastname@example.org May 28, 2014 9:02PM
About 50 senior citizens attended a seminar Wednesday about ruse burglaries, conducted by Sgt. Steve Pryor of the Illinois State Police. | Steve Metsch~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 30, 2014 12:50PM
About 50 senior citizens gathered Wednesday at the Beverly Woods Restaurant in Chicago to learn how to avoid becoming victims of ruse burglaries.
In a ruse burglary, one crook distracts a homeowner while his cronies are busy sneaking into the home, stealing valuables and cash within moments.
The problem is so widespread that the Illinois State Police two years ago started a Ruse Burglary Task Force covering Cook, DuPage, Kane, McHenry, Lake and DeKalb counties, Sgt. Steve Pryor said.
Wednesday’s seminar was put together by Chicago Ald. Matt O’Shea, D-19th.
Unlike most burglars, the ruse burglar wants the resident to be home when he visits.
“In ruse burglaries, they distract you, unlike other burglaries where they kick a door in and steal a TV,” Pryor said. “They want to engage you in a conversation and distract you so his friends can run in. They go right to the bedroom, right to the dresser drawers. That’s where most of us keep the good stuff.”
Ruses can be so basic they sometimes leave victims feeling embarrassed. Only one in 30 are reported to police, said Patrick Jaycox, an officer in the Chicago Police Department’s Organized Crime Division.
Typical ruses involve the criminals claiming they are doing concrete work to repair sidewalks, blacktopping of driveways, tree trimming or simply asking for hot water. Why hot? Because it would require a trip to a sink rather than perhaps a nearby hose, thus allowing the other criminals to sneak into the home.
Pryor showed a video surveillance tape of a ruse burglary unfolding. Senior citizens watching sighed when they saw three other men sneak into the house after the first distracted a homeowner.
Fortunately, the 87-year-old woman eventually wised up and asked for their ID cards, at which time they fled — but not before she got a partial license plate number that helped officials find and arrest the men.
Pryor suggested people hide cash and other valuables somewhere other than their bedroom.
“Be a little inventive,” he said.
The best defense is asking for a ID card.
“If they’re not legit, you’ll scare them off. If they don’t break it out quickly, ask if they don’t mind if you call 911. They’ll run off,” Pryor said.
It’s not unusual for ruse burglars to roam neighborhoods in search of potential victims, Pryor said. Their dedication to their craft is impressive.
“I’ve put 250 miles on my car following them one day. Last November we followed them from the North Side, at Irving Park and Kedzie, to unincorporated New Lenox, to Olympia Fields, to 40th and Pulaski in the city, to Bolingbrook and up to La Grange Park,” Pryor said.
Jaycox talked of the “sweetheart swindle” in which a younger, attractive woman comes on to a senior man and befriends him. He’s soon loaning her money or buying vacations and cars for her, all without ever sleeping with her.
Pryor said the culprits don’t socialize outside of their circles.
“They don’t have friends who are not (of the same background). Their kids are usually married off by 16 or 17, and the groom’s family pays a dowry of $20,000 to $40,000 to the bride’s family. They don’t have any legitimate jobs, and the kids aren’t in school. This is all they know,” he said.
“You wouldn’t believe their homes,” Pryor said.
Pryor has told some of the ruse burglars he has arrested that “they should sell cars for a living because they can sell anything to anybody.”
Another common ruse is for the burglars to say they are from the city’s water department and that a neighbor’s home has flooding and they need to check the would-be victim’s basement. Before the homeowner leads them downstairs, they discretely unlock the door behind them, leaving it open for their fellow burglars.
“They tried that in Oak Forest, but when the lady asked for the ID, the guy took off. She identified the guy and we arrested them,” Pryor said.
In one case, they got $8,000 for roof work, which consisted of nothing more than spraying sealcoating on the roof. Another charged $1,500 for sidewalk work that was washed away by the rain.
“We had one at 110th and Trumbull. A neighbor is 67, the man is 90. She went over there to see what was up and, sure enough, it was a scam. She scared them off,” Pryor said.
The ruse burglars have avoided prosecution for years by offering restitution, giving half the stolen money back to the victim. The task force is urging victims to not accept those deals.
Tom Loughney, a retired Chicago firefighter who lives in the Mount Greenwood community, said he was impressed “by the way they scam.
“It’s unique. You have to watch out for them,” said Loughney, who has not been approached.
Allan Meador, 60, said his father lives on the South Side and has been approached.
“They’ve tried it on him many times, all these ruses. They’ve said, ‘Come to the alley, we hit your garage.’ They’ve said, ‘We’ve fixed your neighbor’s chimney, we can fix yours.’ They’ve even tried the sweetheart ruse with a woman crying in the back of a van,” Meador said.
Thankfully, he said, his father, 85, has not fallen victim.
Morgan Park District Police Cmdr. Daniel Godsel said while ruse burglaries are not widespread in the district, it’s good to remind seniors of the dangers.
“It’s a problem, especially because of the victim that is preyed on,” Godsel said. “These are very vulnerable victims. I worry about a false sense of security. We have to remain vigilant, even when we have good arrests. There’s always the potential because they’re out there.”
Godsel called Tuesday’s large turnout “a testament to the strength of the community and to the bonds between the police and the community.”