Distraction burglary or diversion burglary is a crime in which elderly persons are often the targets. The perpetrator seeks to draw a resident out of the house on a pretext. While the resident is occupied, an accomplice enters the home and picks up valuables such as money and jewelry. Thieves may also pick up papers with the intent of committing identity theft. In a variation, the accomplice enters the dwelling by a second door while the resident is occupied at the other door.
Types of Impostors
Thieves who specialize in distraction burglary typically assume a false identity, which is why this crime is also known as impostor burglary. These false identities fall into three categories.
In the first type, the thieves come in the guise of officials such as utility workers, postal workers, door-to-door salesmen, delivery men or surveyors. They may even pretend to be police officers or firefighters. Often they pretend that they need to show the resident some problem on the property and thus lure them outside and away from the door. They often win the resident's confidence through wearing a uniform and displaying official-looking badges or ID. In a recent variation, criminals tell the residents that they have won a gift card or other prize.
The second category of impostor includes thieves pretending to be contractors or laborers. They may try to convince householders that they need trees trimmed, gutters and drains cleaned, fences mended or roofs repaired.
Similarly to those in the first category, they try to get the landowner outside to look at the problem. This type of impostor often relies upon a glib tongue and persuasive abilities to win over the homeowner. In one common tactic, the impostor will offer to do the work for a rock-bottom price. The price is immaterial since the work isn't actually going to be done.
Thieves belonging to the third category come as ordinary citizens, but pretend to have a problem. Perhaps they are seeking an address or looking for a lost pet. Sometimes they pretend to be ill or in need of a bathroom. Women and children are often employed in this type of distraction burglary, as people may be more likely to let down their guard if approached by a woman, a woman with children or a youngster alone.
To prevent distraction burglary, be suspicious of anyone who comes to your door under any of these guises. In the case of someone claiming to be on official business, it's a good idea to ask for identification, but that can be faked. It's a better idea to call the agency and confirm that there are legitimate workers in the area.
Other Preventive Measures
In addition to being suspicious of callers, follow these other practices:
- Do not leave your purse or wallet out in the open. Many women have the habit of putting down their purses as soon as they come in the door, making them easy for a thief to spot.
- Keep jewelry and small valuables in a safe. Use jewelry boxes only for costume jewelry.
- Keep all doors locked. If you believe a caller has a legitimate reason to get you out of the house, pick up your key and lock the house behind you.
Why Older People May Be Targeted
Elderly individuals may be targeted for the following reasons:
- They are more likely to live alone.
- They may be more likely to keep cash at home.
- They may need help in maintaining their property and may thus be especially vulnerable to those asking to do maintenance work.
- They may suffer from impaired cognition or judgment.
- They may make poor eye witnesses due to issues with sight and cognition.
- They are often conscientious individuals who want to be cooperative.
- If they have impaired mobility that keeps them from getting to the door, they may leave the door unlocked, especially if they are expecting caregivers to arrive.
- They may not notice missing items in a timely manner.
Women are victimized around twice as often as men. This may be because the elderly are targeted, and women tend to outlive men, or it may be a result of the thieves targeting women.
In addition, statistics show that households are more likely to be targeted if the residence is poorly maintained and if the entryway is not readily visible from the street.
Learn about other fraudulent schemes that target seniors and why seniors may be vulnerable to scams.
Spread the Word
Do your part to foil distraction or impostor burglars by passing on this information to individuals who may be targeted. If you are involved in the care of an elderly family member or neighbor, be sure they know the proper steps to take if they are approached. If a suspicious incident occurs, report it immediately to prevent others in your area from being victimized. Social media can be a useful way of getting the word out.
It is especially important that victims do not let their embarrassment about falling for a scam keep them from reporting the crimes.
Some distraction burglars are highly organized and either locate likely victims through surveillance or rely on tipsters for this information. Some are opportunistic and strike whenever they spot a likely victim or location.
This crime is especially rampant in the U. K., where it is commonly called ruse burglary, and the thieves may be called bogus callers. The crime is, however, on the rise in the States.