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‘Snake Scam’ Burglars Slither Into Peninsula Cities

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A gopher snake tastes the air with its tongue. (David McNew/Getty Images)

A gopher snake tastes the air with its tongue. (David McNew/Getty Images)

SAN MATEO (CBS SF) — A notorious “snake scam” in which burglars pose as animal control officers to rob homes has slithered its way into San Mateo, Belmont and Burlingame, prompting police there to join the hunt.

Belmont Police Captain Patrick Halleran told KCBS on Friday that two homeowners, on separate sides of the city, were both victimized by the group on Thursday evening.

Burlingame police said Thursday that a resident on Francisco Drive, behind Burlingame High School, contacted them to report a woman claiming to be an animal control officer came to his home Tuesday around 6:50 p.m. and told him she needed to check his backyard for snakes. While the man escorted the woman to the yard, another suspect entered the home and stole the man’s coin collection, according to police.

The resident told police the woman spoke loudly and frequently in a “Bronx”-type accent. The resident suspected she might have spoken in this manner to cover up the sounds of her accomplice breaking into the home.

The woman was last seen walking south on Rollins Road. She is described as a heavyset Hispanic woman with bleached blonde hair tucked into a baseball cap. She stands about 5 feet, 2 inches tall and was wearing a khaki uniform with dried glue stains.

Also on Tuesday, around 4:50 p.m., San Mateo police received a similar report of a woman posing to be a city of San Mateo employee working for pest abatement. The woman told the homeowner, who lives in the 400 block of Alameda de las Pulgas, that she needed to check the inside of the home for a possible infestation and then the outside to set snake traps.

The woman was wearing a tan uniform and had a hat covering her blonde hair. She stood 5 feet 2 inches and weighed approximately 120 pounds. She was estimated to be about 30 years old and had a nose ring.

The burglary scam is a new trend where a two-suspect team uses a distraction technique to gain access to the home by one suspect while the other suspect occupies the victim.

Although nothing was taken from the San Mateo home, San Mateo police Sgt. Dave Norris said that all local agencies that have had similar cases are sharing information and communicating with one another.

Police in Fremont have also received reports of a duo posing as animal control officers in search of venomous snakes.

On Saturday, a resident of Moore Drive reported that a woman claiming to be with Animal Control had asked for access to the resident’s backyard to set traps for a poisonous snake that had gotten loose and bitten a girl.

The resident unwittingly went along with the woman’s scam and escorted the woman into the backyard. While distracted, a male suspect acting as the woman’s supervisor snuck into the home and stole cash and jewelry, Fremont police reported.

Fremont police received reports of a two-woman team with the same modus operandi going door to door earlier on Saturday in the Niles neighborhood. One of the women described matches the description of the Moore Drive suspect, according to police. She is described as a white or Hispanic woman around five feet tall with a medium to heavyset build. She was wearing a hat, dark gloves and a town or brown short-sleeved shirt with patches on the sleeve.

Neither the Burlingame Police Department, San Mateo Police Department nor the Peninsula Humane Society are investigating any infestations of snakes or snake-related problems in Burlingame and San Mateo. Fremont animal control officials also report that they are not looking for any loose snakes or handling snake-related problems in the city.

Animal control officers and police officers are required to carry with them governmental photo identification cards. Police are advising residents to ask to see photo identification of a person claiming to be an officer. Beware of solicitors at your door, as this is a common ruse to see if anyone is home, according to police.

Residents who see suspicious activity are being urged to contact police immediately.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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