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Police say it's mobile thief season in Pa.

June 29, 1999|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Pennsylvania State Police are warning residents of Franklin and Fulton counties to be aware of home improvement schemes, home invasion and store diversion thefts perpetrated by migratory criminals.

"This is the season that is ripe for them," said Cpl. Bernard Stanalonis of the Chambersburg barracks. Early spring to late fall is the prime period for traveling bands of criminals, many of whom are Gypsies or Southern "Travelers," he said.

"State lines mean nothing to these people. They are very hard to trace," he said.

A robbery committed Saturday at the Norland Shopping Center is believed to be the work of traveling criminals.

In that incident, two women stole cash from the Busy Bobbin Fabric Center. One acted as a lookout while the other grabbed cash from the register and a money bag.

Stanalonis, who worked in the state police intelligence section for seven years, said descriptions of the women "were consistent with what they call the Polish or Yugoslav Gypsies."

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These groups, which he said can have as many as a dozen members, stage disruptions in stores to divert the attention of employees and customers while offices and safes are searched for cash, he said.

Another scheme is the home invasion theft. Stanalonis said the thieves try to get a homeowner outside while an accomplice goes inside looking for cash, jewelry and other valuables.

Sometimes they will try to get inside by asking to use a telephone, or they may simply walk into a house where they see someone working in their garden or doing yard work, he said.

The home invasions take place mostly on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. The thieves often scout neighborhoods, looking for signs of older residents, such as handicapped license plates.

Members of another group, originating in Great Britain and known as Travelers, are adept at home improvement schemes, offering to pave driveways or do roof repairs, Stanalonis said. They will take money and either not perform the repairs or do shoddy work.

"They prey mostly on the elderly because they feel they can be intimidated" and older victims' poor health and memories can prevent them from giving police accurate descriptions, he said.

"Ninety percent of the victimized people in these repair scams are over 60," Stanalonis said, adding that more than half are over 70.

Stanalonis offered tips to keep residents from becoming victims, including locking doors, even when working in the backyard.

If someone comes to a house seeking assistance, the homeowner should offer to make the call but not allow the person inside.

Homeowners should make sure anyone offering to do repairs is legitimate. "Common sense shows contractors don't go door-to-door," Stanalonis said.

Residents should keep an eye out for people or vehicles in their neighborhoods that appear to be suspicious. Any suspicious activity should be reported to police, he said.

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