Homeowners Warned to Look for Fake Utility Workers

Police say people are disguising themselves to gain access.

ByABC News via logo
March 24, 2016, 11:36 AM

— -- Authorities across the United States are warning homeowners to be on the lookout for imposters who are disguising themselves as utility workers to talk their way through people’s front doors.

ABC affiliate WPBF-TV in West Palm Beach, Florida, captured one such alleged encounter last month when a man, whom police accuse of impersonating an electric worker, requested money from the resident for a supposedly overdue bill. Police later arrested him, charging him with robbery, battery and fraud.

That case fits into the ongoing concern among U.S. law enforcement officials that would-be thieves are using creative ways to break into your home, including a stroll through the front door.

New York police allege that a duo in Queens, New York, made off with $70,000 from an elderly man after posing as Consolidated Edison workers, while a frightened homeowner in Eastern Michigan was allegedly held at gunpoint three weeks ago by yet another imposter.

“These guys are very good. They’re very articulate,” said spokesman Terry Maenza of the Pennsylvania-American Water utility company.

Maenza is among the leading authorities battling the issue. “They hit the area and then they’re gone,” he said.

To demonstrate how it can happen and to warn viewers, ABC News’ Gio Benitez went undercover disguised as a water company worker in Summit, New Jersey, equipped with a fluorescent vest, hardhat, clipboard and a walkie-talkie, all easily purchased online for about $60.

“We’re going to knock on these doors and see what happens, see if these people let us in when we tell them we’re with the water company, and obviously, we’re not,” Benitez said.

Our cameras, producers and members of the Summit Police Department watched from the street out of sight.

To our surprise, within seconds of meeting a total stranger, six of the seven homeowners who answered the door invited Benitez inside.

He immediately came clean, telling them he is actually a correspondent with ABC News.

“Why were you so willing to let us in?” Benitez asked one of the homeowners.

“The helmet worked out well,” the homeowner replied. “I was looking for a badge, though.”

“What let your guard down?” Benitez asked another.

“I saw the cap, I saw the clipboard and I just thought you were authentic,” she said.

Officer Matt Tarentino of the Summit Police Department said “often times, it’s what you don’t see that you also have to be concerned about. You don’t know the capabilities of the person entering your home.”

Only one person asked Benitez for his identification.

Utility companies say it’s rare for a worker to come to your door unannounced, so if they do, make sure you ask for photo ID and look for a vehicle with a company logo on it.

And if something seems off or suspicious, call the utility company or the police.