CHEVY CHASE, Md. - Police are warning residents to be careful when opening their door, following recent home invasions.
"It just makes common sense these days to be aware that there are people out there that may want to do bad things," said John M. Fitzgerald, chief of police for Chevy Chase Village.
Fitzgerald says safety starts before the knock on the door. Lock doors and windows even while home, Fitzgerald advised.
When someone unexpected comes knocking, it is important to remember that not opening the door is an option.
"If it's someone that you don't know, you can just decline and say ‘no thank you,'" he says. "If somebody is offended because you didn't open the door when they wanted to knock on your door and offer to rake your leaves, that is just too bad."
One way to turn them down: "If somebody is coming and they are unexpected tell them 'leave some literature on the door - I'll get it after you leave,'" he says.
The chief says some thieves come offering to do yard work, tree trimming or claim to be selling magazines or firewood, hoping to convince people to open the door. Others play on people's good nature, asking to borrow your phone or use your restroom.
The bottom line, Fitzgerald said: "Don't unlock and don't open until you know who it is."
Fitzgerald says there is one scheme he has seen from what he calls "vagabond fraud artists" where people come in a group and knock on your door, saying their dog ran into your back yard. "The well-intended resident goes to the backyard with one of the fraud artists when another one of their friends walks into the front and steals valuables out of the house."
In cities like Chevy Chase Village and in many D.C. area counties, vendors need permits, Fitzgerald says. The exemptions in Chevy Chase Village and Montgomery County are for religious institutions and political organizations.
The chief say residents should talk with their children about what to do if someone knocks. He says the biggest danger is young children. For children under 15 he recommends children be told not to open the door. Fitzgerald also says children should be taught not to even communicate with the person outside; instead they should go straight to an adult.
As for children over 15 years old and up, Fitzgerald says parents, if they are comfortable doing so, may choose to teach their kids the rules they use and allow the teen to use their discretion before opening the door. He says if any point there is concern about the person outside, call police so they can come and talk to them.
"They may be a legitimate vendor or solicitor on the other hand they may be a wanted person and may have a long history of criminal conduct," Fitzgerald says.
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