‘Tis the season for distraction burglars to return to Lee, Collier neighborhoods

Video from NBC-2

— Winter and spring in Naples usually mean seasonal residents.

But over the years, it’s also become the time when distraction burglaries crop up in Collier and Lee counties.

“They come in every so often,” Naples police spokesman Michael Herman said Friday.

And although Herman said it hasn’t been as bad as previous years, law enforcement officials are still urging the public to stay on their toes.

Cpl. Lee Van Gelder with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office Crime Prevention Unit agreed and said the scams have a simple pattern.

The burglar teams pose as a utility company crew, a tree-trimming service, driveway pavers, roofers, surveyors or other service workers and dress in clothing which resembles outfits worn by the company they claim to be with.

First, one of the team members would approach a victim at their home and either talk them into coming outside or distract them into an area within the residence where they cannot see if anyone else enters.

At that point, the other members of the team would enter the home without the victim’s knowledge and steal cash, jewelry and other valuables. Once the team has completed the theft, they contact their accomplice via radio or cell phone and meet back at their vehicle.

Van Gelder urged Southwest Florida residents to be suspicious of service personnel arriving at their home, especially if they haven’t scheduled an appointment.

“If someone comes up to the door like that, terminate the conversation, lock the door and make sure no one is in the house,” Van Gelder said Friday.

And if residents see anything suspicious in their neighborhood or their community, Van Gelder said they should immediately contact the Collier Sheriff’s Office, the Lee Sheriff’s Office, Naples police or Marco Island police.

“Give us an opportunity to check it out,” Van Gelder said. “We’d rather have to check it out and it turn out to be nothing, rather than having to respond after a crime has taken place.”

However the best way to thwart these types of thefts, Van Gelder said, is to make sure your house is locked up — even if you are at home.

“The whole idea with these thefts is that they are in and out very quickly,” Van Gelder said, adding that the thieves usually target easy-to-carry, easy-to-stash items like jewelry and money.

If you have information concerning this, or any other crime, you are urged to contact the Sheriff’s Office crime information tips line at (239) 775-TIPS (8477).

* * * * *

For more information, call the Collier Sheriff’s Office at (239) 774-4434 or visit www.colliersheriff.org.

__ Connect with Elysa Batista at www.naplesnews.com/staff/elysa_batista

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