A crook masquerading as a water authority worker stole $4,000 from an 82-year-old man who allowed the scammer in his house to check on basement pipes, Orchard Park Police reported.
The $4,000 cash was kept in a safe in a closet of the man's bedroom, said Orchard Park Lt. Joseph Ray. Police believe the money was taken by an accomplice who came in the house while the victim was being distracted in the basement. The victim told police he was saving the money for roof repairs.
Ray said the incident occurred the afternoon of Feb. 1 near New Era Field after the homeowner returned from grocery shopping in Hamburg.
The suspect who came to the door was described as a "well-dressed young man," who wore an identification badge on a lanyard around his neck, Ray said.
"The man and the suspect went down in the basement, the suspect is relaying the information on a walkie-talkie to his 'boss,' " said Ray. "Our assumption is the accomplice was getting a play-by-play so he knew if it were safe or not for him to search for valuables.
"He found a safe and was able to break it open," said Ray. "He also stole 50-cent pieces and other coins that were in buckets, and dumped the coins in a suitcase he found in the closet."
Ray said the victim did not discover the theft until later in the evening as he was preparing to go to bed and he noticed his closet door was open.
It was the first of two incidents this month reported in Orchard Park by elderly residents whom police believe may have been targeted while shopping and followed home, said Ray.
"The scammers are hanging out at stores, and when they spot people leaving the store who fit their profile, they follow them home," said Ray. "They're preying on the elderly because they're less likely to pull out their smartphones and call the water authority."
In the second case, a couple in their 70s did just that, police said. On Thursday afternoon, two suspects appeared at the door of a home in the Village of Orchard Park, where a couple had just returned from grocery shopping in West Seneca, police said.
"This time the suspects said they were from the New York State Water Authority," said Ray. "They split the couple up in the house and were talking to each other over a walkie-talkie.
"This couple called the water authority and found out no workers were sent to their home," said Ray. "They also did not see an official vehicle parked at their home."
Nothing was reported taken in the second incident, police said.
The Erie County Water Authority issued an alert on its website urging customers to be cautious of individuals impersonating ECWA employees.
"All ECWA meter service workers travel in white vehicles with a blue ECWA decal on both sides, wear a blue uniform with an ECWA emblem, and carry a photo identification badge," stated water authority officials, who advised all customers to confirm these three forms of identification from anyone claiming they are at the premises to read or perform work on the water meter. If customers are not shown proper identification, they should immediately shut their doors and dial 9-1-1 or call the water authority at 849-8484.
Ray of the Orchard Park police added: "If someone calls on you at home unannounced, tell them to go away and to schedule an appointment."