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Police warn of suspicious men claiming to be 'utility workers' in Bel Air and Joppa

Cell phone was taken from Joppa home; man entered Bel Air home while owner was distracted by another

BY BRYNA ZUMER, bzumer@theaegis.com

6:20 AM EDT, July 31, 2013

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Bel Air town police and the Harford County Sheriff's Office are warning residents to be on the lookout for people claiming to be utility workers who may try to steal from home owners.

A Sheriff's Office spokesman said Tuesday two men stole a cell phone in Joppa early this month, while pretending to work for a utility company.

The Bel Air Police Department said in a news release that two suspicious people, one of whom claimed to be with a utility company, accessed a home in Howard Park on July 22 but did not take anything.

In the Joppa incident, the victim told police that at about noon on July 15, a man entered the home in the 1600 block of Laurel Drive.

He said he worked for a utility company without saying which one and made "a pretense of working on trees in her back yard but then related it to contamination of her well water," Sheriff's Office spokesman Edward Hopkins wrote in an e-mail.

When the victim became confused by his comments, the man tried to convince her to go to the back of the property and tried to lead her by the arm. The victim also noticed another man was waiting in a car nearby, Hopkins said.

The victim became alarmed, told the suspect to leave, and walked to the porch to get her phone, Hopkins said. The suspect became confrontational and she demanded he leave her property.

A witness told deputies that during the incident, he saw two men, one wearing a red shirt and another with a light-blue collared shirt outside a blue Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck, Hopkins said.

The two suspects left without further incident but took the suspect's phone, Hopkins said.

The main suspect is described as Hispanic, with a fairly thick accent, 6 feet tall with a slim build, and wearing a light-blue-and-cream plaid button-down shirt and jeans, as well as dark circular sunglasses with a brownish tint, Hopkins said.

In the incident in Bel Air, a resident in Howard Park answered the door for a person who claimed "he needed to check the water system for contamination from a broken pipe in the area," according to the Bel Air Police Department news release.

The man displayed some type of photo ID and was carrying a portable radio, so the homeowner allowed him to enter the home, according to the release.

Once inside, the man went to the basement and began "inspecting" the water pipes, according to the release.

After a brief conversation, the resident and the suspect proceeded upstairs, where the resident was surprised to find another person near the bedroom door, according to the release.

The resident further asked the two who they worked for. They became "increasingly nervous and evasive in their responses and quickly left the residence," according to the release.

A subsequent call to Baltimore Gas & Electric and to Maryland American Water revealed neither company had anyone working in the area, police said.

Hopkins said he is not sure if the two in the Bel Air incidents are related to the case in Joppa.

"The Sheriff's Office wants to reiterate that residents should be cautious of individuals claiming to be employees of utility companies. All utility workers should have identification in their possession and typically it is displayed where it is clearly visible," he wrote in the e-mail.

"In many cases, residents will know ahead of time if there is a problem in the area. Likewise, most utility companies will give advance notice of work being done in the area. Residents should not allow any one in their home that is not properly identified," Hopkins wrote, adding that impostors can carry credentials and can work in groups.

Residents should call police on anyone suspicious and notify the utility company, as well, he added.

Bel Air Police said they also sent a Connect CTY message to Howard Park residents warning of suspicious people in the neighborhood.