Courts & Crime

Missing kittens, phony repairs: How scammers target elderly

When he was arrested earlier this month, George Davis wore a gold wedding band that he had stolen, Sacramento County sheriff's detectives allege, from a 77-year-old woman he robbed the day before.

Detectives say he lifted the ring from the woman's home while three children — one of them Davis' 5-year-old son — distracted her in the backyard with a story of a missing kitten.

No kitten was ever found. Neither was the $10,000 in cash that Davis allegedly stole from the woman when he slipped inside her home.

Also missing: Roughly $50,000 worth of cash and other valuables that detectives accuse the 31-year-old Davis and several accomplices of stealing from elderly victims across Sacramento County in a series of scams.

Three of those accomplices are still outstanding, and authorities want to warn residents who could fall victim to the same hoax.

Twenty-five reported crimes, spanning from March to August, have been linked by mode of operation and suspect descriptions, said sheriff's Detective Todd Gooler, who is investigating the series.

However, he suspects there are as many as 100 more that haven't been reported because elderly victims often feel ashamed, partly responsible or fearful that their relatives will take away some of their independence in light of the crimes.

"They're perfect victims for a bad guy," Gooler said.

Many of the 25 crimes follow a similar story line: The victim, often alone at the time of the crime, is lured outside by someone posing as a neighbor with a story of damage to a shared fence, or some trees that need trimming, Gooler said. Sometimes the "neighbor" gets the victim to help foot the alleged bill.

Several times, the criminals have claimed to work for local utility companies.

While the victim is outside, the home is burglarized by other thieves in on the deal, Gooler said. Or the fake neighbor in the backyard asks to use the bathroom and leaves with loot.

On several other occasions, Gooler said, the criminals claim to be there to fix the car, even though the victim never made such arrangements.

But Gooler said the scam artists are so aggressive and persistent that the victims often become disoriented, and give in — sometimes even going with the thieves to an ATM to withdraw cash.

Gooler said confusion is a common theme in these stunts. He said his victims often tell him, "'He was talking so fast, I was confused.' "

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