Home theft scams by criminals posing as police officers and plumbers are on the rise in France, police have warned, with elderly people especially at risk.
Typically, scammers will target affluent neighbourhoods in major towns, and focus especially on older people who may live alone. Posing as police officers, or workers such as plumbers, they knock on the door and gain the inhabitant’s trust, convincing them to let the scammer in.
They then trick the person into handing over their valuables, or they may simply steal them without the resident noticing.
In 2018, police counted 8,800 reports of this kind of theft across France. In Paris, the scam has grown so much that there is now an action plan designed to tackle it.
This has seen the crime drop from 300 cases in the capital in 2015, to fewer than 100 last year. In Paris, the 16th and 17th arrondissements tend to be targeted the most.
Jewellery worth €50,000 stolen in Paris
In one case heard by news source FranceInfo, one woman – aged 83 and living in a flat in the 16th arrondissement in Paris – had even been visited by the scammer in question a few days earlier.
A man arrived at the door one day, to check if the building work taking place on the 1st floor “was not bothering her too much”. Posing as the works manager, he promised that he would return in a few days to check on the building, and ensure that it was “not affecting” the woman’s property.
A few days later, he arrived as promised, and – having already gained the woman’s trust – was let into the flat.
He asked her to check the bathroom taps were working properly, but suddenly, another man wearing a police officer uniform came into the property, shouting that the resident “had let in a criminal”, and asking her to check if anything had been stolen.
She went into her bedroom to check her jewellery box, and was reassured that nothing had disappeared. The police officer then took her into the living room to ask her some questions about what had happened.
Meanwhile, an accomplice returned to the bedroom to steal the now-obvious jewellery box. The duo eventually made off with items worth €50,000.
It was only afterwards that the woman realised she had been scammed.
She said: “When they left, I immediately went into my bedroom, and I saw that I had ‘been had’. The fake policemen were thieves. I was naive, but it happened so quickly. I can still see the man’s face in my head, when I’m in the street or doing my shopping. I think about it all the time.”
The three perpetrators of this case are now in police custody, but the jewellery has still not been found.
Advice for homeowners
Commissioner Vincent Annereau said: “There are two factors that the criminals take into account. First, the age of their victims. They choose elderly people, on average between 70 and 90. They must also live in a nice neighbourhood, because [the scammers] think they will find better items.”
Mr Annereau advised: “If an individual arrives to do work on your property, call your property union or management company, to check if the work is really necessary.”
General police advice is to never open your door to – and absolutely never let enter – anyone unknown or unscheduled, whatever the reason given.
Source: The Connexion