Phony city workers burglarize Victoria residents
Dec. 5, 2012 at 6:05 a.m.
Updated Dec. 6, 2012 at 6:06 a.m.
How to help
If you have any information about this case, call the Victoria Police Department's investigation unit 361-485-3730 or Crime Stoppers at 361-572-4200.
If you have questions about the status the city of Victoria's contract employees, call the Public Works dispatch line at 361-485-3380.
If you feel uncomfortable or question the validity of someone claiming to be a city worker, contact the Victoria Police Department's non-emergency number at 361-573-3221.
"Ma'am, I'm from the city, and I need to get into your backyard."
That's what one of the two men claiming to be city of Victoria contract workers said after knocking on George and Gloria Olsen's door in the 600 block of Cannon Road about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Clad in dark green Dickies shirts and pants, blue baseball caps and radio ear pieces, they lured all the family members into the backyard, insisting they sign off on the project to replace nearby power lines and transformers.
Familiar with the family's neighbors, their property's dimensions and using construction lingo, George Olsen said it was enough to distract them all for about an hour as a third man rifled through their belongings.
It was only after they left, promising to return with copies of the project documents, that the Olsens discovered something was awry inside. About $2,000 in cash and several pieces of jewelry, including a sentimental wedding and engagement ring, valued about $1,000, were missing.
"Now that I think about it, he had no tape measure," Olsen said about one of the men, who he described as a thin, 6-foot-1 tall, smooth talker. "He was just quoting figures and pacing. His dialogue was so knowledgeable though, you'd never think you'd be suckered into it, but we were ... they had done their homework."
The other man was in his late 20s or early 30s, had an eye problem, a goatee and weighed between 230 to 240 pounds, Olsen said.
At one point during the scam, Gloria Olsen and their daughter noticed a man wearing a tan Dickies shirt and pants fleeing the area with a black and white tote bag. They now believe he was the burglar.
"We asked, 'Hey, is he with you guys?' and they said, 'No, he must be one of your neighbors,'" George Olsen said.
Olsen said he was not suspicious because they'd noticed city workers in the neighborhood from time to time installing smart electric meters. The family is still reeling, especially because they don't know whether the men were armed.
"If we had come inside, we might've found out," George Olsen said, grimly.
City of Victoria spokesman O.C. Garza said this is the first time in his 11-year tenure he's ever heard of someone posing as a city worker, who typically will drive up in a marked vehicle, wear uniforms and sport badges.
"It's a shame," he said. "We certainly don't want this to happen to anyone else."
The city currently employs just one outside company, US Bronco, which is converting city water meters to an automatic system, a project that's slated to be complete in summer 2013. Garza said even the contractor has a similar, strict identification policy.
"Our public works employees though are typically limited to working in the street. It's pretty rare - unless they were coming at the request of the homeowner - that they'd be on private property. They're working on city assets," Garza said of tasks like patching up leaky water mains and streets with potholes.
Capt. Herb Tucker, of the Victoria County Sheriff's Office, although not familiar with the case, agreed. He said neither city nor county workers, the latter of whom do not wear uniforms, deal with electricity.
Tucker also wasn't surprised that the men the Olsens encountered appeared to know what they were talking about.
"It's not that difficult to get the names of people's neighbors," he said about several online databases.
One site - Spokeo.com - can provide a user with an individual's address, phone number, e-mail, criminal record, occupation, marital status and family tree for a fee.
He said county workers also don't have the authority to order everyone outside their house.
"If there's an evacuation, we'll be out there as well," Tucker said about emergency responders, such as the fire department, fire marshal and sheriff's deputies.
Victoria Police Department's Assistant Chief Roy Boyd said investigators are still developing leads and will use a variety of databases to locate the stolen items.
He urged people to be cautious, especially during the holiday season.
"When in doubt, call and verify," Boyd said.