An elderly Morris couple reported the theft of more than $1,550 in cash and several pieces of jewelry from their home Thursday in a scam police say appears to be targeting area seniors.
Morris Detective Alicia Steffes said the scam operates with an unsolicited visit at a person's home where the stranger offers to do tree-trimming for the homeowner and talks their way into the house, or takes them to the back of the house. Meanwhile, other strangers enter the home to commit theft.
"Elderly people tend to be sometimes more trusting and nice. They're afraid to offend people," Steffes said. "We want them to know that these people are doing this on purpose."
According to department records, the scam has played out in at least two reported incidents since late March, with the most recent on Thursday.
In Thursday's theft, the couple, who live on the 1800 block of Lisbon Road, told police that before 2:40 p.m. Thursday, a man came to the door and engaged the homeowner in a discussion about trimming trees, walked into the house uninvited and took the homeowner into another room while the front door was open.
The homeowner's wife, who was sleeping in the living room when the man came to the house, moved to a back bedroom to find another man in a bedroom going through her purse and yelled at him to leave. She found a third man in the home's master bedroom, going through a dresser, and yelled for him to leave. As she went to find her phone, she saw a fourth man leave the master bedroom.
During an investigation with police, they found cash, a credit card and jewelry, including the couple's wedding rings, missing.
The two described three of the men as being in their 40s, at heights ranging from 5 feet, 7 inches to 5 feet, 9 inches, and possibly Hispanic. The fourth was described as a black male who was about 6-feet tall and between 250 and 300 pounds.
A similar incident was reported on March 30 in the 200 block of George Street. In that case, a woman reported two men involved in the theft of $20 in cash and pieces of jewelry that she didn't report as very valuable. The woman was able to get a vehicle description. She told police the men drove away in a newer silver Nissan mini-van that didn't have plates.
Steffes said the department is working to get the word out to prevent others from falling victim to the scam.
"It could happen to anybody," Steffes said. "We want to give that heads up so that people aren't afraid to say, 'No, you can't come in,' 'Get out,' and 'I'm calling police.'"
She encouraged residents to avoid inviting strangers into their homes by not giving them an open door.
"Talk through your screen door if you can," she said. "Do not give them an opening to come in."
Additionally, she said they should ask for identification and a business card, and if they're uncomfortable with the situation, shut the door. She said residents can also report out-of-the-ordinary activities by calling the police department.
Steffes said there are currently no leads on either case, and encouraged residents to report any similar incidents or if they have any other information on the suspects. Residents with information can call the police department at (815) 942-2131 or Grundy County Crime Stoppers at (815) 942-9667.