CONMEN preying on the elderly and vulnerable have tricked their way into more than 400 Sheffield homes over the past four years to steal cash and valuables.
Offenders, often posing as water board officials or workmen, have got into houses in most city suburbs, and distracted their victims while accomplices sneaked inside to search for money and jewellery.
Others have claimed to be builders or roofers, offering to do repairs, then disappearing after asking for payment up front.
Some victims, who hoard money at home instead of using banks, have lost their entire life savings.
Police chiefs in Sheffield today described the crimes as “heinous” and branded distraction burglars “the lowest of the low”.
Last month alone 10 such burglaries were reported to police - including three committed within the space of an hour.
In the first, a 63-year-old, from Handsworth Road, Handsworth, opened his door to a man claiming to be from Yorkshire Water and alleging that he needed to check the householder’s pipes.
The man allowed the ‘workman’ inside and, despite never leaving him alone, he later discovered other rooms in his flat had been searched.
Nothing was taken - but on two other occasions over the next hour two more homes were visited by ‘water board’ callers, and cash and property was later found to have gone missing.
An 82-year-old woman, from Windy House Lane, Manor, was visited by a man who had an identity card around his neck and claimed he was also from the water board.
He asked the OAP to turn on the taps in her kitchen and, when he left, she found £300 had been stolen.
A 49-year-old disabled woman from Duke Street, Park Hill, was also conned by two bogus water board officials who called at her home and also asked her to run her taps. She later found a CD player had been taken from her bedroom.
Detective Chief Inspector Zaf Ali, who oversees serious acquisitive crime in Sheffield, said the conmen responsible often swap tips with other criminals to identify easy prey.
“These people trade information in prison and sell it on - they know who is vulnerable and they share that information between themselves,” he said.
“This is heinous offending and those involved are the lowest of the low.
“If there is honour among thieves these people have not got it - they are looked down upon even by other criminals.”
Detective Inspector Chris Singleton, responsible for the investigation of distraction burglaries, said: “These kind of offences have the potential to be life changing - it is often elderly and vulnerable people who are targeted and some have lost their life savings.
“Their homes are violated and they often feel foolish for allowing these people into their homes, but these are confidence tricksters who have done this time and time again.”
Police believe there may have been even more offences over the last few years but that victims have been too ashamed to come forward.
Detectives, who are looking for potential links between the offences, are urging all victims to come forward.
DCI Ali said: “We are part of Operation Liberal, which a number of forces are involved with, where we share all the information we have on these offenders and rogue traders.
“As soon as an offence is reported to us the information is shared among a network of agencies, and we have a plan of action we implement straightaway while the offenders may still be nearby.”
DI Singleton added: “We would encourage people to always keep their front and back doors locked at all times, even when at home, and look through the window before answering the door.
“Always check ID carefully and contact the company to see if that person should be at your house. Some companies use a password system, which the caller should give when they arrive.
“If in doubt, do not let the person into your house.
“The message we want to get across is simple - keep your doors locked and don’t let strangers into your home unless you have verified their identity. If you are not sure, don’t open the door.”