Criminals are turning the tables and using well-meaning neighbors to help rip you off.
A watchful, alert neighbor can be your best defense in protecting your property. But as we found out, criminals are turning the tables and using those well-meaning neighbors to help rip you off.
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Friendly communities and neighbors willing to lend a hand -- these are attributes that help make Northeast Ohio a wonderful place to live.
But when it comes to your home and your neighborhood, you are going to see firsthand why giving the cold shoulder to a stranger may just prevent you from becoming the victim of a thief.
"Hi. I'm not selling anything." Posing as a potential homebuyer, our WKYC photographer, Randy, walked up and down a neighborhood in a west side suburb.
On a warm spring afternoon, Randy told neighbors he was interested in learning more about the street.
He knocked on doors and stopped people on the street, asking questions. Was it a quiet street? Did most residents work during the day? He quickly got information that could help a burglar target a house.
"They're not home," one resident said, pointing to a brick home. Another man walking a dog told Randy, "Yeah, there are a lot of people at work."
Neighbors, just like yours, were eager to share details, such as which homes were vacant.
"This woman just passed away, so her niece is selling the house," one woman said. Even more frightening, another woman told Randy which homes were owned by young single women, or had small children living there.
"This girl over here is single. There is a small family over here."
And who was on vacation: "Snow birds? Right. Right. As a matter of fact, the second house from the end is snow birds. The house that's set way back, they go to Florida every summer, I mean winter."
We took our undercover video to Captain Robert DeSimone, of the Parma Police Department, who was very concerned with the information Randy was able to get by spending just a few minutes on one street.
"Terrible thing. The whole neighborhood is there. He might as well go and open up the front doors for them and say, 'This person is home. These people are not home' and do it that way."
He says every person Randy talked to made the mistake of revealing too much information.
Even if a thief gets information on a short window of time a homeowner may not be around, it's enough to steal precious information.
"When you know that someone is gone, whether it be during the day, you can come take their mail. You can come take credit card applications out of their mail," DeSimone says.
DeSimone says, sadly, he wasn't shocked people were so forthcoming.
"They give out information because they're trying to be nice. But they give up too much information," he says.
And in most cases, crooks are just like our undercover photographer Randy, well-dressed, smooth talking and very friendly.
"None of these homeowners knew that this person was legitimate and, in fact, he wasn't," DeSimone says.
Only one of our unsuspecting homeowners actually did the right thing. When Randy knocked on his door, he politely, but firmly told Randy he didn't have time, and shut the door.