Ezzard Carney, a truck driver and foreman with PG&E, displays the proper uniform and attire a utility worker would wear while on the job Wednesday at
Ezzard Carney, a truck driver and foreman with PG&E, displays the proper uniform and attire a utility worker would wear while on the job Wednesday at 2nd Avenue and International Boulevard in Oakland.

FREMONT -- Knock, knock. ...

So the joke begins, but the punch line has left few East Bay and Peninsula residents laughing after their homes were brazenly burglarized in a bizarre string of thefts over the past week and a half.

Dressed to resemble city or PG&E workers, pairs of men and women have targeted elderly residents in Hayward, Fremont, Union City, Oakland, San Carlos and most recently San Mateo, stealing thousands of dollars in cash and other valuables. The catch, and the primary concern for police, is that residents are still home when the crimes occur, yet they are completely unaware of what is going on before it is too late.

Suspect in the Aug. 21 "snake ruse" burglary. (Union City police)
Suspect in the Aug. 21 "snake ruse" burglary. (Union City police) (Cpl. Bob Kensic)

In Fremont, Union City, Hayward and San Mateo, elderly residents have answered their doors to either a man or a woman claiming to be with Animal Control who said they needed to check the property for poisonous snakes or they needed to trim a neighbor's tree. While one of the suspects distracts the residents by taking them into the backyard, a second person burglarizes the home.

Only in the San Mateo case did the resident become suspicious of the visitor and ask her to leave before the home was burglarized.

Official-looking outfits and a convincing excuse to get residents out of their homes is an alarmingly bold tactic, according to Geneva Bosques with the Fremont Police Department.


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"(The burglars) are taking advantage of a trustworthy system," Bosques said. "They are taking advantage of our city, of our government and of our residents. My fear is that they are going to continue to be sophisticated in their planning and then leave Fremont to take advantage of other communities."

Sgt. Eric Melendez, head of the robbery and property crimes unit with the Hayward Police Department, agrees with Bosques. He said the plans and the way they are carried out are the work of someone who is an experienced thief and who most likely has a record. More important, they should have been caught before, he added.

In Oakland and San Carlos, a man and his stealthy partner posing as a PG&E worker executed a similar ruse, also making off with thousands of dollars in cash and jewelry.

It is still unclear if all the crimes are related, police said, but similar suspect descriptions have been reported on multiple occasions. However, despite the scams' regularity, no one has been arrested.

In Union City and Fremont, the suspect posing as an Animal Control officer has been described as a white or Hispanic female in her 30s, roughly 5 feet tall with a medium build. In Union City, the female suspect was described as wearing a dark green outfit. In Fremont, the suspect was described as wearing a tan uniform. All uniforms, regardless of what unit officers work for, are dark blue, police said.

In San Mateo, the female suspect was similarly described, and officers said she had blonde hair and a nose piercing. In Oakland, the suspects were described as Hispanic males in their 40s, about 5 feet, 6 inches tall, 185 pounds with dark brown hair. The men wore light-blue shirts, light-colored pants and light-colored hats. In Hayward, officers described the suspect who posed as an Animal Control officer as a white man, 25 to 35 years old, 5-foot-6 and 160 pounds with thinning, dirty-blond hair and mustache. He wore rectangular glasses. In the Hayward tree-trimming scam, the suspects were described as Hispanic males in their 30s and wearing dark clothing driving a red pickup truck.

"The concept of the crime has not changed," said Rebecca Rosenblatt, spokeswoman for the San Carlos Police Bureau. "The methods have, and when we foil one (plan), they start on another. And if it looks like it is in one area, there is a good chance someone else has seen it in another."

While more reports come in of residents being duped, detectives and agencies are trying to beat the thieves at their guise by getting the word out of what to look for so no one else is a victim.

"(City employees) don't just randomly show up," Melendez said. "If someone comes to your door, and you even have a shred of doubt, call the police. You can tell pretty fast if you are on the phone with a dispatcher if the person is who they say they are, because if they are not, they are going to disappear quickly."

"We don't mind those calls either," he added. "We love when we can catch (burglars) right in the act because then it's a done deal."

And there is nothing wrong with simply not answering or refusing to open the door, said Tracy Prioste with the Concord Senior Citizens Center. Though Contra Costa County seems to be the only area where there are no recent reports of suspects trying to lure people from their homes with stories of poisonous snakes or neighbors needing their trees trimmed, Prioste said the advice on how elderly residents deal with strangers is universal.

"I think now you don't owe that same courtesy to a complete stranger as (elderly residents) were raised to do," she said. "If you don't know the person, you don't have to open the door and greet them. Speak to them through the door, because maybe they are not supposed to be there."

Linda Olla, manager of the Fremont Senior Center, said while she knows that a majority of seniors grew up in a very trusting environment, the world is no longer like that.

"It's a cowardly thing for people to do, targeting seniors," she said.

Follow Katie Nelson at Twitter.com/katienelson210.

The suspects
Police have released information about several similarly described suspects in recent scams that have plagued the East Bay and have trickled over to the Peninsula. Should you recognize any of the suspects listed below, police have asked that residents immediately contact their city's police department.

FREMONT
The suspect is described as white or Hispanic female, about 5 feet tall, with a medium to heavy build and a pierced tongue. She was wearing a hat, dark colored gloves and a tan short-sleeved shirt with patches on the sleeves. She may be driving a silver Land Rover, police said. A second suspect description could not be provided. The incident was reported Aug. 23.

UNION CITY
The female suspect who was posing as an animal control officer wore a uniform consisting of a dark blue hat with a "CITY" logo on it, a dark green shirt with the same logo over the left chest area and dark green pants. The victims described her as a white or Hispanic female with blond hair that may have been dyed or possibly even a wig. The incident was reported Aug. 21.

HAYWARD
Officers described the suspect who posed as a city worker as a white man, 25-35 years old, 5-foot-6, 160 pounds with thinning, dirty-blond hair and mustache. He wore rectangular glasses. The incident was reported Aug. 22.

HAYWARD
Police described the suspect tree trimmer as a Hispanic man, 5-foot-4, between 30 and 40 years old, with a medium build and reddish brown hair. He wore an orange construction vest and blue jeans. The second suspect was described as a Hispanic man, about 30 years old with a dark complexion. He wore a black jacket, blue jeans and was last seen driving a large red lifted pickup truck. The incident was reported Aug. 20.

OAKLAND
The first suspect is described as Hispanic, age 35 to 40, about 5-foot-6, 180 pounds with short dark hair. He was wearing a hard hat, gloves, a dark blue long-sleeved shirt and dark pants.
The second suspect is also Hispanic, age 45 to 50, with a light complexion, about 5-foot-6, 185 pounds with dark brown hair. He was wearing a light blue shirt, light-colored pants and a light-colored hat. Police said both carried clipboards. The incident was reported Aug. 20.

SAN MATEO
The suspect in this case was described as female, 30 years old, 5-foot-2, 120 pounds, with blonde hair and a nose piercing, wearing a tan hat and uniform. The victim was unable to discern the race of the suspect. The incident was reported Aug. 27.

Source: The Fremont Police Department, the Union City Police Department, the Hayward Police Department, the Oakland Police Department, the San Mateo Police Department.