Homeowners warned of bogus land surveyors

| Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, 1:12 p.m.

Homeowners should be cautious of people who come to the door claiming to be surveyors, utility workers and delivery men, authorities said on Wednesday.

A rash of so-called distraction thefts, which often target senior citizens, has hit Pennsylvania.

A distraction theft is one in which a person posing as a surveyor, meter reader, utility worker or a deliveryman will distract a resident — possibly by asking him to show the person a distant property line — while an accomplice enters the house to steal valuables.

“The elderly seem to be a little more trusting and a little more naive to some things,” said Mt. Lebanon police Deputy Chief Aaron Lauth. “We really recommend that people talk to their parents or grandparents about what these people are up to.”

If approached, keep the door shut and locked, ask to see identification and look for a marked vehicle, said Peters police Chief Harry Fruecht.

“Don't let anyone into your house without an appointment,” Fruecht said. “You've got to be responsible for your own safety, to some degree.”

Legitimate surveyors will be able to identify themselves and companies for which they work, said Adam D. Crews, president of the Pennsylvania Society of Land Surveyors. They should provide valid identification, a license number and a business card.

“When in doubt, a homeowner should call the authorities to verify an individual's identification and purpose, especially if the visit was unexpected,” Crews said.

Residents don't lose any rights by inviting a stranger onto their property, said Downtown lawyer Paul Ianetti.

“If they become an invitee under false pretenses, the homeowner can revoke that invitation at any time,” Ianetti said. “If they don't leave, call the police.”

In May, two con artists claiming to be utility workers stole $4,000 in cash and jewelry from a 92-year-old Green Tree grandmother. The woman told the Tribune-Review that the men went to her house and said they needed to work in her backyard.

Once she and the men were in her yard, one man excused himself. He rummaged through her house and stole cash and jewelry.

Mt. Lebanon police issued an alert last month warning homeowners of similar scams because a man posing as a utility worker stole cash from an elderly man's home, Lauth said.

The ploys are not new. Catching those responsible is difficult because the perpetrators often travel the country employing similar tactics.

In 2003, Mark Fisher posed as a utility worker to distract Freda and Shannon Dale while three others entered their Peters home, bound the couple and robbed them. Freda Dale, 89, died of a heart attack brought on by the trauma. Shannon Dale was injured but recovered.

Washington County authorities charged Fisher in December 2006 after a DNA database linked him to a cigarette butt found outside the house and to the duct tape used to bind the couple.

Washington County Judge Debbie O'Dell Seneca convicted Fisher of second-degree murder and other crimes and sentenced him to 99 years in prison.

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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