Police struggling to catch roving band of con artists

They’ve allegedly talked their way into at least 30 houses in the Taraval and Richmond districts during the last two years and have been seen by the people they robbed.

But catching a band of con artists posing as utility workers still hasn’t been easy, police said.

The suspects reportedly show up on doorsteps in a uniform, claiming they’ve been assigned to test the home’s water pipes or other utility devices, according to San Francisco police inspector Daniel Yawczak. While one suspect distracts the victim, the others rummage through the home for valuables.

The victims tend to be elderly or of Asian descent, he said.

“They tend to find people who are lonely and will let anyone in just to talk to them,” he said.

Police say capturing the suspects has been difficult because many don’t live in the area and they aren’t easy to identify.

Yawczak said most victims describe the men as “Hispanic- or Latin-appearing” and with a strange accent, but he believes the suspects are “criminal gypsies” whose native language is Romany.

“We tend to get the same description all the time,” Yawczak said.

The suspects usually case a neighborhood for days, searching for lonely, vulnerable victims, and often try knocking on as many as 20 doors before a victim will let them in, Yawczak said. Once they’ve robbed the home, they tend to leave the Bay Area, each dispersing to different regions of the U.S. and Mexico.

“They tend to move around, change the number of people and players involved,” he said.

Yawczak said it’s easier for people to say they wouldn’t let a stranger into theirhome than to actually keep them out. He said some of these scammers can be rather convincing.

“There’s a lot of different variations on this scam,” he said. “Some people claim they’re coming to fix your fence, some say that someone in their group is having a baby, or a heart attack, and ask you to call an ambulance, or get water … and they’ll steal from you while you’re doing it for them.”

He said residents who find anyone claiming to be a utility worker on their doorstep should call the utility company and make certain the workers are legitimate.

maldax@sfexaminer.com

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