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A new census, a new scam.
Phony census-takers have been seen roaming around the Pelham Bay area, trying to trick residents into letting them into their homes.
According to police, this scam is different from others that have occurred in the past, but the goal is the same: to gain access so thieves can steal unprotected valuables.
“They were just taking advantage of the situation, because there were real census workers that potentially could be still walking around,” said 45th Precinct Community Affairs officer Anne-Marie Morrison. “Sometimes they pose as ConEdison, sometimes if a tree has fallen down in the area and there are city workers in the area, they will pretend to be city workers.”
The thieves generally work in pairs, and once they gain access to a home, one will distract the homeowner while the other steals as much as possible, officer Morrison said.
“It’s a crime of opportunity,” she said. “While one is talking the other is walking through the house, going through drawers and stealing.”
Officer Morrison said the precinct received several complaints about the incidents a few months ago, but there was no information or reports that any of the phony census workers actually burglarized homes.
For Pelham Bay resident Anita Valenti, who is also vice president of the Pelham Bay Taxpayers Association, seeing census workers come to her home several months after filling out her census form was a little surprising.
“Somebody rang my bell and said they were from the census, and they were checking to make sure everything was done correctly,” she said. “I was very suspicious, but he seemed to be legitimate and showed me an ID tag to prove it.”
Valenti said she did not let the alleged census workers in, but spoke to them through her screen door, and they left.
Soon after, they returned again, but she again didn’t let them in.
Then a few weeks later she received some phone calls asking her what was in her house.
She said the calls made her more suspicious and curious, but she did not go to the police with her complaints.
According to Community Board 10 district manager Ken Kearns, sometimes the scam artists are affiliated with home improvement or housing companies that try to enter homes to find out real estate-related information.
“It happens all the time, people masquerading as somebody from somewhere else,” he said. “People will try anything.”
According to officer Morrison, the best way to fight the scammers is by not letting them inside your home, and calling the police to come and check out whether or not the alleged workers are legitimate.
“The best thing is the general crime prevention techniques; if you see something, say something,” she said. “Since most of the census forms have been turned in, they don’t really need to come to your home. It should be all over by now.”
So if the census comes knocking, a little suspicion might be wise.
©2010 Community Newspaper Group
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