ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The St. Petersburg Police Department and Tampa Police are sharing evidence about a potential crime ring that targets elderly homeowners on both sides of Tampa Bay.
Both cities had incidents on April 24.
In most cases, men claim to be city employees or landscapers and use tricks to gain access to the inside of the homes.
It's exactly what happened to Mary Porter, 84, on Wednesday when a man knocked on her door and told her he needed to trim her neighbor's trees. To do so, he'd need to get into her backyard.
After she took him behind her house, he started shouting about dozens of brown recluse spiders, and began spraying what he called an acidic chemical that would kill them.
"And he just turned around and sprayed my hand," Mary said.
Unbeknownst to Mary, another man had walked into her house after pushing past her 95-year-old husband, Archie, in the front doorway.
"He went into the living, sat down on the couch as if he owned the place," Archie said. "I said, 'Get out of here and I mean, get out of here.' I couldn't have touched him. He'd make minced-meat out of me."
The man with Mary rushed her inside, claiming the chemical he sprayed on her hand would cause severe burns if she didn't wash with milk.
He poured milk from her fridge into a bowl and told her to take off her jewelry. When the men finally left, Mary noticed her rings were not longer in the milk.
Missing were her wedding band and a 140-year-old heirloom diamond ring valued at $28,000.
"But they're just things. You can live without them," Mary said. "They're two able-bodied men. They ought to go out and get a job. That's what they ought to do."
Since January, the Porters neighborhood in St. Petersburg has had seven similar scam victims.
In the last two months, Tampa has had at least two.
"We'll see one or two incidents in any given month. Then it stops. Then they come back again," explained St. Pete Police Spokesman Mike Puetz. "It's very likely the next time we see them they'll do something slightly different."
In the Porter's case, a neighbor's surveillance camera picked up a picture of a silver Chrysler minivan.
"I can't believe they're doing this type of thing," Archie said. "This has never happened to us."
Anyone with information should call police at (727) 893-7780.
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