How burglary tricksters get you out of your home: Internet Scambusters #595
Without realizing it, you could be helping crooks with burglary on their minds.
You could be fooled into leaving home or you may simply let them know you're not around, as we explain in this week's issue.
We also have a new alert from the IRS on a huge phone scam that threatens victims with jail if they don't pay a non-existent tax debt.
Now, here we go...
Are You Helping Crooks with Burglary in Mind?
You might have seen an email circulating recently warning of a sneaky new burglary trick that starts with the loss of your wallet.
According to the story, a woman had her wallet stolen from her purse, which she had foolishly placed and left unattended in a grocery cart.
She reported it to security at the store. Later, when she got home, she received a call saying the wallet had been found and that she should come collect it immediately.
What she didn't know was that the caller was actually the thief who'd found her contact details in the wallet, phoned her to get her out of her home, and then, while she was out, burglarized her home.
Who knows if this is a true story? But it's certainly feasible and serves as a timely warning about the tricks that crooks use either to get you out of your house or to tell if there's anyone at home.
We've reported on burglary risks before when a guest writer gave us some tips on preventing the crime, in 15 Steps You Can Take To Prevent Home Burglary.
But this week, we want to focus on how thieves try to get you out of the house and the tactics they use to check if the home is unoccupied.
Luring You Away
The wallet theft trick we mentioned is just one of the techniques criminals use to lure you away from your home.
The same risk applies if you lose your cell phone or it's stolen.
But by far the most common technique is the simple ruse of one crook distracting you, while an accomplice enters the house to do their dirty work.
They use a whole range of tricks including:
- Claiming to be a utility employee or contractor who wants to show you an area outside where he's about to start work.
- Posing as a neighbor or passerby who just spotted a problem on your roof or the exterior of the building that they want to point out to you.
- Pretending to be the owner of a lost pet, who asks you to come and help them search nearby for it.
Crooks may disconnect power lines, send out phony invitations to events or even advertise opportunities on social media or online classified ad sites (such as events or jobs) that will get you away from home.
Action: Obviously, you should be on your guard for these ruses and avoid leaving the home unguarded if at all possible.
If you do have to leave the house, even for a few minutes, lock all doors, close all windows and, if it's dark, switch on some lights.
Checking if Anyone's Home
Of course, even if a crook lures you away from your home, he or she can't be sure someone else isn't inside.
Or if they're just scoping out potential burglary targets, they want to know if a house is occupied or if the owners are out or away.
So, it's important not to give the game away by leaving signs your home is unoccupied.
As our guest writer suggested in our earlier issue, you should certainly hold newspaper and mail deliveries if you're going to be away for more than a day or two, or at least arrange for a trusted neighbor to collect them.
And, she added, you can use timers to switch on lights at random.
But here are 10 more actions you can take to conceal your absence and avoid alerting crooks:
- Don't leave address details in your car, especially if it's in a long-term parking lot.This applies not just to documents but even to a GPS, if you have one. Don't enter your home address on it.
- When you're going to be out for a short while, leave or switch the radio on, preferably on a talk station.
- Keep your garage door closed and garage windows covered so burglars can't check for vehicles.
- Beware of solicitors -- at your door or on the phone -- wanting to fix a future appointment, especially if they ask when you're going to be at home.
- Don't leave voicemail messages that say you're away, or when you'll be back. Messages should be neutral, simply asking callers: "Please leave a message after the beep."
And if you're going on vacation or will be away for more than a few days:
- Don't discuss travel plans on social networking sites.
- Arrange for your lawn to be mowed and front yard to be kept generally tidy if you're going to be away more than a week.
- If you live in a snowy area, get a neighbor to drive on and off your driveway when there's snow on the ground, so tracks are visible to a would-be burglar.
- Ask a neighbor to clear any litter they see around your home. Crooks have been known to drop trash on driveways and doorsteps and then check to see if it's been cleared.
- Finally, as we warned in another issue, Latest Scam Weapons: Obituaries, Surveys and Text Alerts, beware of publishing home address details in funeral or memorial service notices. They signal when you'll be out.
These days, you need to keep all your wits about you and think through all the angles when people either try to get you out of your house or prowl around to check if you're in.
By thinking of the burglary risks first, you're more likely to keep the crooks at bay.
Alert of the Week: Since we prepared our tax scams issue, the IRS has warned of what they describe as the biggest ever tax-debt scam.
Victims get a phone call demanding unpaid taxes and threatening court or jail if they don't pay up via a money wire or prepaid debit card.
The IRS doesn't work this way, so hang up!
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!