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Officials probing home robbery scheme Thief distracts occupant while partner breaks in; $200,000 taken since July


Thieves operating in Harford County since mid-July have stolen more than $200,000 in cash, silver and gold in a scheme in which one perpetrator diverts the attention of an occupant while another sneaks into a home, often through an open door or

window, and steals valuables, law enforcement authorities said.

Detectives from the Harford County Sheriff's Office and the Maryland State Police said they are investigating more than 40 daytime burglaries committed since July 15, most of them at rural homes.

The thieves' method in each case is the same, Deputy 1st Class Thomas F. Baker said. Strangers either knock on the door or approach someone working in the yard. If no one answers the door, the thieves will enter through an unlocked door or window, or break in, he said.

If someone answers the door, one of the thieves engages the person in a conversation about a lost dog or cat, Deputy Baker said. Or the thief may solicit home improvement work or claim he wants to deliver a package to a neighbor.

Meanwhile, Deputy Baker said, a second person may be entering the rear of the house to steal valuables.

The questions thieves ask are often designed to elicit information about the daily routine of a neighbor, whom they also may be targeting, he said.

Sometimes the thieves call first, to see whether anyone is home.

Recovery of the stolen items is difficult, especially if the victim does not have an inventory with descriptions or pictures of the items, Deputy Baker said.

If someone answers, the thieves pretend to take an insurance survey, or say they want to deliver a package and ask information about when someone will be home, which can be helpful in planning a break-in, Deputy Baker said.

Detectives say that if a stranger knocks on the door, residents should ask questions. Keep doors and windows locked. Ask for identification, the number of a contractor's license, a company address, or company stationery or business cards, the detectives said.

If strangers ask about neighbors, ask the strangers how to get back in touch with them. If they don't want to provide a telephone number, call police, he said.

And if residents see something suspicious or have strangers stop by, call the sheriff's office at (410) 836-5408 or state police at (410) 838-4101, the detectives said.

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