Theft in home scams by fake police on rise in France

The scammers pose as workers and police officers, to gain access to a home to steal valuables

THEFT scams by criminals posing as police officers and plumbers are on the rise in France, police have warned, with elderly people especially at risk.

Typically, scammers will target affluent neighbourhoods in major towns, and focus especially on older people who may live alone. Posing as police officers, or workers such as plumbers, they knock on the door and gain the inhabitant’s trust, convincing them to let the scammer in.

They then trick the person into handing over their valuables, or they may simply steal them without the resident noticing.

In 2018, police counted 8,800 reports of this kind of theft across France. In Paris, the scam has grown so much that there is now an action plan designed to tackle it.

This has seen the crime drop from 300 cases in the capital in 2015 to fewer than 100 last year. In Paris, the 16th and 17th arrondissements tend to be targeted the most.

Jewellery worth €50,000 stolen in Paris

In one case heard by news source FranceInfo, one woman aged 83 and living in a flat in the 16th arrondissement in Paris had been visited by the scammer in question a few days earlier.

A man arrived at the door one day, to check if the building work taking place on the first floor “was not bothering her too much”.

Posing as the works manager, he promised that he would return in a few days to check on the building and ensure that it was “not affecting” the woman’s property.

A few days later, he arrived as promised, and having already gained the woman’s trust was let into the flat.

He asked her to check the bathroom taps were working properly but then another man wearing a police officer's uniform came into the property shouting that the resident “had let in a criminal”, and asked her to check if anything had been stolen.

She went into her bedroom to check her jewellery box, and was reassured that nothing had disappeared. The police officer then took her into the living room to ask her questions about what had happened.

Meanwhile, an accomplice returned to the bedroom to steal the now-obvious jewellery box. The duo eventually made off with items worth €50,000.

It was only afterwards that the woman realised she had been scammed.

She said: “When they left, I immediately went into my bedroom, and I saw that I had ‘been had’. The fake policemen were thieves. I was naive, but it happened so quickly. I can still see the man’s face in my head, when I’m in the street or doing my shopping. I think about it all the time.”

The three perpetrators of this case are now in police custody, but the jewellery has still not been found.

Advice for homeowners

Commissioner Vincent Annereau, of the first police district in Paris, said: “There are two factors that the criminals take into account. First, the age of their victims. They choose elderly people, on average between 70 and 90. They must also live in a nice neighbourhood, because [the scammers] think they will find better items.”

General police advice is to never open your door to anyone unknown or unscheduled, whatever the reason given, and absolutely do not let them enter the property. If appropriate make a call to find out if any work is necessary, for example, if you live in flats, to your syndic or to a neighbour who is a representative of the syndicat de copropritété.

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