CHRISTMAS should be a time of goodwill to all men, but for some it is a signal to commit crime.
December often sees an increase in distraction burglaries and bogus caller offences in which the elderly and vulnerable are the most common victims.
A distraction burglary is a crime where entry is gained to premises by an offender, who pretends to be a person who would normally be allowed entry to those premises, with the intention of stealing.
This includes bogus officials, who often claim to be from a utility company or other official body, and rogue traders who offer to carry out work for a set fee and then increase the charges having carried out a poor standard of work – or no work at all.
Sadly, around Christmas, these offenders use the long, dark nights to mask their crimes playing on vulnerability of their victims.
This year, however, police in Cheshire’s Western Area are determined to put the freeze on bogus callers.
Superintendent Jon Betts said: “Burglary by its very nature is cruel as it targets people in the place they should feel safest – their home.
“But distraction burglaries and bogus caller incidents are particularly abhorrent as criminals are deliberately setting out to cause misery for the elderly and most vulnerable members of society.
“Research nationally has shown that the average age of a distraction burglary victim is 81, with three quarters of the victims being women and a further three quarters living alone.
“When younger victims are involved often they are vulnerable in other ways either by virtue of mental of physical health issues.
“This is a despicable crime, but, thankfully, it is one that can be guarded against.”
The majority of bogus callers use similar lies and false identities to gain access to people’s houses – usually claiming to be from the waterboard or gas company – however they can be as varied as having lost a cat or having kicked a ball into a garden.
Officers in Western Area are calling on all residents to be vigilant when answering the door and to consider a few vital points that could reduce their chances of becoming a victim of doorstep crime.
Do not keep large amounts of money in the home. Always keep it in a bank or building society.
Keep your front and back doors locked, even when you are at home.
Be wary when anyone calls at your home unexpectedly.
Make sure you always use a door chain when answering the door.
Always ask for and check the identification of people claiming to be from a company or organization. If the callers are genuine they will expect this and will be only too happy to provide ID. Official visitors should always arrange an appointment with you beforehand. Keep the letter they have sent to you to check the callers’ details and that they are visiting at the appointed day and time. If the appointment is not convenient to you, change it to a day and time when you are available or can arrange to have someone to be with you.
If you are still unsure of their identity, ask them to wait while you call the company they claim to be representing – but do not rely on any number they give you, this could be false. Again, genuine callers will be happy to wait.
Finally, if you are still not satisfied, call the police immediately.
Supt Betts added: “Thankfully these crimes are relatively rare although we are aware that many never get reported to the police as the victims feel embarrassed and ashamed.
“I want to assure everyone living in Western Area that we are doing all we can to bring distraction burglars and bogus callers to justice and have seen success this year in doing so.
“We work closely with Trading Standards and other agencies to identify offenders and take action against them and together we have brought several prosecutions to court and have seen Anti-Social Behaviour Orders issued against some of the most persistent rogue traders.
“All agencies are committed to tackling this type of crime and we will continue doing all we can to reduce future incidents. But we need local people to help.
“All incidents should be reported to the police as soon as possible. There is nothing embarrassing about being duped by one of these crooks and we are used to dealing with this time of crime.
“If you are a victim of doorstep crime try to remember what the caller looked like and pass this description on to police – if necessary write this down before the police arrive to make sure you do not forget potentially vital details.
“If you have elderly and vulnerable people living nearby, keep an eye on them to make sure they are ok and look for any suspicious activity around their homes.
“By supplying the police with information you will be helping to take steps to reduce opportunities for criminals in Western Area.
“The more information we have, the better we are able to build evidence and take action against those responsible.”
If you have been a victim of doorstep crime or have information to pass on please call Cheshire Police on 0845 458 0000. Alternatively contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.