Conmen exploit children to trick elderly

Criminals are exploiting children to trick their way into the homes of elderly and vulnerable people as distraction burglaries across Norfolk soar.

Criminals are exploiting children to trick their way into the homes of elderly and vulnerable people as distraction burglaries across Norfolk soar.

Their latest tactic is revealed as the EDP launches its Keep Them Out campaign in conjunction with Norfolk police to warn of the dangers of allowing strangers into the home and provide advice on how to avoid falling victim to doorstep cons.

Officers say they have noticed a substantial increase in incidents over the winter months with many pensioners losing their life savings after inviting offenders into their homes. Almost 50 crimes were reported in the six months leading up to Christmas - but only about 10pc of incidents are reported.

Criminals stop at nothing to win the confidence of their victims, often sending children to the door asking to retrieve a ball or for other help before an adult slips in unseen.

Other disturbing cons include women pretending they have been victims of assaults to grab the householder's attention.

Supt Julian Blazeby, who heads the force's distraction burglaries unit, said: “These criminals prey on vulnerable people, generally those who are elderly or living in an isolated location, and often have an elaborately rehearsed routine to work their way into the home.

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“Traditionally these have included 'pen and paper' tricks - where offenders pretend they need to leave a note for a neighbour - or people posing as representatives of utility companies. But these tricks are always evolving. The fact that children are now being used just shows how despicable these offences are.”

In the worst incidents pensioners have lost thousands of pounds. “Many elderly people look after their cash and valuables in different ways to other members of society. Some keep their life savings in their homes and as a result can be easy pickings for criminals,” Mr Blazeby said.

“We have seen a particular increase in recent months but these offences take place all year round and the best way to combat them is for the public to be vigilant and not allow unexpected callers into their homes without checking their identity.”

Latest statistics show that between April 2006 and December 2006 there were 46 distraction burglaries in the county and many more have been reported since Christmas. Because of the stigma attached, the offences often go unreported and police are keen to hear from as many victims as possible.

Examples of recent offences include a 92-year-old woman from Norwich who wrote cheques for £600 and £385 to two men on consecutive days for just a few hours work in her garden and an elderly woman from Broome who was duped by a man who told her that her cat was stuck in the garden. He told her to wait in the garden while he got a cage from his car before entering the bungalow and stealing items from the bedrooms.

A police spokesman said: “These offences are committed by professional criminals and we are aware that many of the offences committed go unreported.

“We would urge anyone who believes they have been a victim, or where someone has had suspicious callers at their homes, to report it to police.”