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Home invasions, scams: Don't become a victim

| Tuesday, July 22, 2003

UNIONTOWN -- Crimes tend to multiply in the summer months, according to police, and two types of crimes can be prevented by following a few tips.

The number of home invasions and home scams, says Tpr. Brian Burden, community services/public information officer for the state police at Uniontown and Belle Vernon, rises along with the warm summer weather.

Burden has conducted research that tended to be both "reasonable and prudent" on home invasions and home scams, suggesting that the elderly are often easier targets and that they are more profitable since there are those who still refuse to keep money in the bank.

Whenever Burden visits senior centers, he urges them to open bank accounts rather than keep money stored in their homes, making his point by telling his audience that no matter where they decide to hide the money, somebody would find it.

Burden also says if somebody becomes a victim of a home invasion, the best thing to do is cooperate with the robber's demands and not try to be a hero.

Jewelry, a VCR and money can be replaced, but lives cannot, says Burden.

Although Burden admits he's not too sure about the accuracy of his research into the history of the home invasion, he says it started with people robbing full-service gas stations, because the attendants would keep the bills in their pockets as they went from car to car.

The service station attendant then started keeping money in a box inside the station until somebody stole the money from the box.

The cash then moved from the box to a safe in the station until robbers figured out how to steal from that, says Burden, but the number of robberies dropped when video cameras were installed in the stations.

"As the service stations became more difficult to rob, the robbers found an easier means to get money, which led to home invasions," he says.

For a robber, the hardest part of a home invasion is getting through the door.

"If they're defeated at the door," says Burden, "they'll most likely move on to an easier target."

Uniontown Police Chief Kyle Sneddon says it's a matter of predator and prey; the predators being the robbers or the scam artists searching for the weakest prey they can find and then strike.

Sneddon advises people to do anything they can, like leaving lights on outside and inside, organizing neighborhood crime watches, get an alarm system or a even a dog to make it difficult for the robber, and not to become prey for the predator.

Also, Sneddon suggests having the vegetation limited around the door and windows of the home, so if the police are called, they can see inside and know what's happening within the residence.

While Burden also supports a neighborhood crime watch, he wants residents to remember that people shouldn't snoop around in other people's business, but just be neighbors talking to neighbors and get to know each other better and observe surroundings, noticing if something's out of place or not right, like a car continuously driving around the block.

The watches are beneficial because, as Burden says, criminals will first scout-out a neighborhood, and they're looking for a laid-back community to rob. They take their time picking targets so once inside a residence, they can take their time with their crime.

Criminals prefer an allowed invasion, in which they easily and quietly gain entry into a residence, rather than a forced invasion, in which doors or locks are broken, making noise, which can create attention, says Burden.

Another crime that gets people where they live are the home scams. With these, someone approaches a residence and tells the homeowner that something at the residence needs repaired, distracting the homeowner while another person sneaks inside to steal belongings.

Burden mentions a recent home scam where two Hispanic men went to someone's house, said they were looking for work, and while the two men showed the homeowner the work they would do outside, someone else entered the house and stole money.

"It's not just trees and repair work," says Burden, "but landscape work or somebody pretending to be a gas or electric employee.

Sneddon, who says home scams do occur more in the summer, says it's important to never let the person inside the home, to keep the door closed and locked if possible, and that the conversation be held through a door screen.

Sneddon adds that it's also important to make whoever's at the door think that there is somebody else in the residence or on the telephone if the resident is home alone.

"Also important," says Sneddon, "is trying to avoid getting into a conversation with somebody that approaches your door, because they could sway the conversation towards matters like bank accounts and where money could be placed."

The second kind of home scam involves criminals appearing at a residence, saying they have leftover material from a previous job and will work on the resident's home for a discount price, but then do a shoddy job, collect the money and leave.

When the homeowner complains about the job, if a phone number is provided, it's a fake number, and the homeowner is scammed out of money.

Burden says that people should know if the person at the door is from an established business. They should ask for identification and should call to check on the person's credentials.

If it's not an established or local business, Burden suggests contacting a local law enforcement agency.

Sneddon says a homeowner should ask if the person at the door is part of the Better Business Bureau as well as ask them for references, and make those calls before any agreement for work begins.

While Burden makes his points on home invasions and home scams in a window between 30 to 45 minutes, he says as long as his information is able to prevent at least one home invasion, it's worthwhile.

For additional information, call Burden at 724-415-1000.

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