At least two metro-area residents have been targeted by burglars posing as fake utility crews, a common tactic of “gypsy traveler” gangs, police said.
Police in Bethany and Warr Acres both reported incidents where homeowners were distracted in their backyards by the fake crews while other members stole items from their homes.
Bethany police Det. Mark Girten said a resident near NW 63 and Rockwell Avenue was targeted Sunday. Warr Acres police Lt. Matt Berger said a resident in the 5300 block of N Hammond was victimized last week.
The burglars stole cash, jewelry and at least one firearm.
“These people know what they are doing,” Girten said. “This is their full-time job. They are going to know what they are talking about. They are smooth talkers.”
Such scams are common across the country, with groups of burglars traveling the country and targeting specific areas for a month or so before moving on. Girten said the burglars are thought to be “gypsy travelers.”
That term can refer to either Irish Travellers or the Romani people. Irish Travellers, or Pavee, are ethnically Irish and can speak a language called Shelta. The Romani or Roma are an ethnic group that speaks the Romani language and are widely dispersed across the world with their largest numbers in Europe and the United States.
Girten said he doesn't know whether the burglars in the Bethany case are Irish Travellers or Romas. They were darker-skinned, looking Italian or Hispanic. He said they are thought to be staying at a hotel or RV park in the area. They might be heard speaking a language that does not sound like English, Spanish or other common languages.
In both cases, a man claiming to be with a utility company came to the door of an elderly resident. He said he needed to look at tree branches potentially near power lines in the backyard. When the homeowners took the man into the backyard, others burglarized the house.
Girten said two people served as lookouts in the Bethany case while two more stole jewelry and cash from the home. He said the group may use other tactics, such as having someone pose as the parent of a lost child or owner of a lost dog to gain entry and keep the resident distracted.
In the Warr Acres case, the crew was in a white Chevrolet S10 pickup.
Karen Kurtz, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co., said she is aware of the reports and that no one from the company was in those areas.
“Those folks were in unmarked vehicles,” Kurtz said.
Contractors for OG&E drive trucks with company names on the side. Workers wear bright green shirts and hard hats.
Oklahoma Gas and Electric sends out letters to residents to advise them that tree-trimmers will be in their area two weeks ahead of time, Kurtz said. A notice is placed on doors 48 hours before workers arrive.
Sometimes workers knock on doors if there is a dog in the backyard, she said. Crews do not always knock on doors before going into backyards, she said, but they should never ask to go in a house.
Tree trimming to keep branches away from power lines is ongoing work, she said.
To inquire if a crew is legitimate, call OG&E customer service at 272-9741.
Girten said if something doesn't seem right about a utility crew or someone else at your door, call your local police.