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Crooks sought in 'distraction burglaries' targeting elderly

LAWRENCEVILLE -- He came in a black Chevy pick-up.

The 86-year-old Stone Mountain woman had just returned home from the library last week, when the truck parked behind her. The driver, a man wearing a baseball cap with little blinking lights, claimed to work for a cable provider, saying he needed to access to her back yard to fix a reception problem. She was leery, but followed. He made a phone call, acted as though he was conducting a land survey, and a few moments later, drove away.

That night, the woman discovered a tennis bracelet, diamond ring, gold necklace and costume jewelry were missing from her bedroom. The jewelry, she estimated for police, was worth between $5,000 and $6,000. She lives alone.

The Stone Mountain case was the latest in a string of "distraction-style burglaries" police say are targeting the elderly of Gwinnett and other metro Atlanta counties. Investigators think the same team of crooks is responsible, based on their appearance and method of subterfuge.

Of the 11 total cases in the crime series, seven have occurred this year throughout Gwinnett. The suspects target the elderly, usually women, who they believe are home alone. One of the suspects -- usually described as a Slavic or Hispanic man of average height and build -- politely approaches the victims for a variety of reasons that seem legitimate, wearing clothes fashioned to his story, said Gwinnett police spokesman Cpl. Jake Smith.

While the stories vary -- sometimes he's inspecting decks, or building a fence and needs the victim to point out a property line, while other times he works for a cable or utility company -- there's a common denominator: He always asks the victim to follow him to the back of the house, Smith said.

"While the victim is in the back yard with the first suspect, a second suspect enters the home through the front," Smith said. "(They) usually take only jewelry."

Smith said the suspects have used several vehicles, including the black truck, a white pick-up and a white van. Behind homes, the first suspect makes a cell phone call and communicates in a foreign language, he said.

Police urge anyone who comes into contact with people matching the descriptions or using similar methods to immediately call 911. With information for Gwinnett police detectives, call 770-513-5300.