On July 29th 2014 a couple in Valley Stream, Long Island, New York was robbed by people presenting themselves as water company employees. New York American Water company has issued a statement urging its customers to pay attention when dealing with a people introducing themselves as service personnel. All company employees visiting customers carry photo identification badges, wear uniforms with company emblems and use vehicles with clearly visible logo. In case of any doubts a person should call customer service line and confirm the technician was actually dispatched.
This scheme never gets old. Every once in a while we could hear or read about a story that happens in nearly identical way. Usually an older resident of a house, condo or apartment is targeted by the thieves. They knock on the door, introduce as service company workers, doesn’t really matter if it’s water supply, electric, gas, telephone, internet or cable TV service and seek access to the premises. For example they would ask to get access to the water meter which has supposedly malfunctioned; when the homeowner leads them to the place one of the fake technicians says he needs to go to the van to grab some tools while he or she actually goes for a robbery rampage.
As a matter of fact the case is not actually limited to service supply companies, is may as well be impostor of town services offering some help program for senior citizens. Goal is always the same, get access to the premises and draw dweller attention towards some subject so that alertness gets at ease.
While it might sound too obvious and draw some superficial opinions on the victims ability of proper judgement of a situation it’s actually more complicated than that and little details could play crucial roles in how things happen. Adult relatives of the victims often get surprised by the accident when they felt their parents wouldn’t get tricked so easily. Let’s take a look at a couple of reasons why seemingly simple and easy to read situation leads to a events difficult to handle by some people.
When a stranger knocks at the door most people open and check who is it. As soon some sort of identity is established and potential address mistakes cleared majority of people lets the person in. This creates a new set of circumstances. First, a potential intruder is already within premises and even if the homeowner realizes the danger the job is not as easy as slamming the door or screaming for help through the open front door. Pushing out a person who is reluctant to leave is a big challenge when a senior must face a healthy and fit adult.
Another factor is assistance that many elderly people need but often don’t realize or refuse to admit. In results they often end up with many unaddressed issues in their homes. Those could be simple to fix yet annoying problems such as blown light bulb. While easy to fix for a fit adult it becomes impossible for many old people scared to climb a ladder even if it’s just a couple of steps. For those reasons the risk of a person accepting help from strangers rises substantially. Accidents when people let a stranger into a house believing their son actually sent them to fix a leaking faucet do happen.
Last but definitely not least aspect is a psychological mechanism defined as denial. Long story short nobody wants to learn bad news; we don’t like realizing we’re seriously sick or wrong hence we tend to ignore or diminish the significance of symptoms. For example think of the following scenario: you let someone in believing he’s a electric company technician. When you take a glance through the window you see a passenger car in bad shape instead of a van in service company livery. First red flag is up, then you look at the guy and he’s wearing plain clothes, you ask him for ID card and he replies that he lost his and the company Human Resources is sloppy getting a replacement. At this point you have a reasonable doubt the person is who he says he is. Still the person could be legit and performing a task validated by the supply company. You don’t want to call the company and realize you’ve made a fool of yourself thinking that a hard working dude is a thief. This would make even the short relationship with the person embarrassing and no wonder we would like to avoid it where possible.
I brought all that up to help understand why this kind of crimes keep happening despite security alertness campaigns. It’s not only unfair to judge victims of these crimes as stupid or irresponsible but also it doesn’t explain and therefore doesn’t help prevention.
What are prevention measures then? Same as always and almost exactly the same one we ask our children to learn. You don’t get into a stranger’s car unless it’s clearly marked police vehicle, period. Once you in the car you lose large portion of the control over the situation. Same happens when letting a stranger inside the house. Technicians visiting clients are trained to be patient so there is nothing wrong to ask the person for staying outside, behind closed door while you make a call to validate credentials. Same comes when asking for identification. Some time ago our company didn’t even have an ID badge templates for parish personnel but these days religious organizations are important part of our client base. They actually encourage the visiting personnel to show IDs even if not asked.