Cat burglers and scammers at large in summer nights
Homeowners in my Bordeaux neighborhood don't answer their doorbell these days. They hurry upstairs and lean out an open window to see who's there. IDs are shouted back and forth in the street until their story seems legitimate. People in this once-sleepy town are more and more afraid of strangers, including what appear to be postmen and healthcare workers. I'm jumpy too. I now answer the door holding a baseball bat. So far I haven't used it but I am ready.
I moved here 15 years ago from London because it was so safe. Bordeaux was then known as La Belle au Bois Dormant (The Sleeping Beauty). It's the wine capital of France and the site of beautiful 18th century architecture arrayed along the Garonne river.
Bordeaux is not the worst case of small-time crime in France. Marseille and Paris suburbs are well ahead of us. Figures for the past two years are not yet published but no other city has came from such a glamorous high point to scrape the bottom quite so fast. Only my contact with the very professional police has kept me feeling more or less secure.
What’s new is that today lawlessness is spreading into the more comfortable neighborhoods. The favorite technique is to defraud elderly retirees by dressing up as policemen, waterworks inspectors or gas meter readers. False badges including a photo ID are easy to fabricate on a computer printer. Once inside, they scoop up most anything shiny as they tip-toe through the house.
Last last week I was victim of fraudsters who claimed to be conducting inspection of rooftops for possible storm damage a few days prior. They were driving a huge truck with an extensible pod reaching three or four stories high -- very impressive to the innocent. They were on my roof in seconds, and returned with bad news. I needed work done the next day, they said, and would have to deposit an advance of 2,000 euros to cover cost of materials. Their paperwork, including an estimate for the full expense facing me, was utterly convincing.
After they left, I found a mention of them on a website as well-known scammers to be avoided at all costs. They usually fail to show up the next day for the “work”. I managed to recuperate about half the advance, and am still trying to get the last 1,000 euros from their credit card fraud. VISA is not being helpful. It was my fault, they said, for letting them use my card.
Just a week later, I was awakened at 4 a.m. by the smell of smoke. I investigated and found a burglar roaming around the house with a lighted candle, helping himself to small items he could resell to middlemen. I thought I was having a nightmare or strange hallucinations. But I followed the smoke and confronted him face-to-face. Against all reason, I was touché by his story. His mother was in the next room, he said. I let him go ahead of me but he slipped by and jumped out the window before I knew what was happening. The police responded immediately to my call and nabbed him within ten minutes. He had my iPhone and a few other marketable items in his pocket.
How did he get into my upstairs window? The police knew his modus operandi by heart. He is one of the "cat burglers" in the Bordeaux area who can scale almost any stonework to enter a private home by a window. Worse, he had been arrested the previous day for petty theft, and relased with a warning. This time he is locked up.
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