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Police investigate scams targeting the elderly in Tampa, St. Pete

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Published:   |   Updated: April 26, 2013 at 06:03 PM
ST. PETERSBURG -

Con men are preying on elderly residents in St. Petersburg and South Tampa, pretending to be water department employees or exterminators while, in some cases, stealing thousands of dollars in jewelry and other valuables, police say.

The same pair of men may be working in both cities, or the con men may be part of a group that’s working on both sides of the bay, according to detectives.

The most recent thefts happened Wednesday.

About 7:30 p.m., a man knocked on the front door of Mary Lou and Archie Porter’s front door on 33rd Avenue North in St. Petersburg, while Mary Lou was in the backyard and Archie was inside by himself.

Thinking he had locked his wife out of the house, 95-year-old Archie Porter opened the door, and a man walked inside. Meanwhile, his partner approached Mary Lou Porter, 83, in the backyard, all the while talking to the other man in Spanish over a walkie-talkie, Porter said.

Porter said the man told her the backyard was full of poisonous brown recluse spiders and insisted on spraying. He intentionally sprayed Porter and started screaming about needing to go inside to clean the spray off her hands.

“He said, ‘You have to take those rings off.’” she said.

Then the men scooped up her engagement and wedding rings, and “out the door they went,” Porter said. The engagement ring, given to her by a friend, was worth $29,000, and her wedding ring $2,000 to $3,000, Porter said.

“I felt very sad and very stupid,” she said.

That scam bears a striking resemblance to two incidents Tampa police are investigating.

A man claiming to be a landscaper showed up at a Melrose Avenue home on April 12 and convinced the 81-year-old homeowner to take him into the backyard, according to police. Meanwhile, another man claiming to be a water department employee knocked on the front door and told the man’s 81-year-old wife he needed to check the water pressure in their home. The men spoke to each other in code and in Spanish over walkie-talkies. After they left, the couple discovered more than $10,000 was missing, police said.

On March 3, a man showed up at a 75-year-old woman’s home on West Euclid Avenue, saying he needed to spray her house for bugs. While giving her a demonstration inside, he pretended to inadvertently spray the bracelets she was wearing, then told her to take them off and soak them in juice to prevent damage, according to Tampa police. Then he grabbed the bracelets, worth more than $300, and ran away, police said.

In St. Petersburg, two incidents where the con men pretended to be with the water department were reported as of March 30. Once police started making people aware of that scam, the men started showing up at homes offering to repair a seawall or fence or spray for bugs.

All told, detectives believe the pair is responsible for seven scams this year.

Tampa police are investigating three similar scams in South Tampa.

Anyone with information or who may have been victimized in St. Petersburg is asked to call (727) 893-7780 or Detective Karl Sauer at (727) 893-4904. In Tampa, call (813) 231-6130.


sthompson@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-7604

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