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3-man burglary crew preys on elderly in O.C.

Officials say they pose as maintenance workers or auto mechanics and coax residents outside.

August 17, 2007|Tony Barboza | Times Staff Writer

Law enforcement officials Thursday warned of a three-man burglary crew distracting elderly residents in southern Orange County to steal their valuables while they are at home.

Claiming to be a father, son and associate, the men drive a black truck and represent themselves as auto repair or maintenance workers. While one of them coaxes the residents to step outside their homes to discuss a broken water pipe or dent in their car, authorities said, another slips inside to scour the home for valuables.

They have hit two homes during daytime in San Clemente this week, said Sgt. Mike McHenry of the Orange County Sheriff's Department.

The same group -- described as two men in their 20s and one in his 40s, all with olive complexions, who are well-spoken and clean-cut -- is believed to have targeted the elderly in Laguna Woods, Orange, Long Beach and Los Angeles this year, he said. Though the only items stolen so far have been watches and jewelry, authorities say the robberies could take a dangerous turn.

On Tuesday one of the robbers took a mallet and hammer from a garage, possibly to use as weapons, before sneaking into the house of a man who is nearly 90 years old, said Jim Amormino, a spokesman for the department.

And on Monday one of them yanked the phone off its jack when Anna Noble, 80, tried calling emergency services after she found him hiding behind a door in the master bedroom of her hillside house. At the time, she said, her 80-year-old husband, Jim, was talking to another man who said he was there to fix a water pipe.

"Once I saw someone inside the house," she said, "it clicked that it was a scam. They keep you occupied in your frontyard while someone is working your house."

None of the Nobles' valuables were missing after the men made a whistling sound -- apparently a signal to leave -- and sped off in their pickup. Hoping to help other seniors avoid the same ruse, they passed out warning fliers door to door.

"These guys target old people because we're far more vulnerable," Noble said. "I'm sure they're laughing right now thinking about this white-haired lady."

tony.barboza@latimes.com

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