WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- - Gypsy bandits are on the prowl throughout Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast according to detectives investigating a rash of distraction crimes.
It sounds like something straight out of a movie, but law enforcement agencies in South Florida say that it is a real life crime problem that is on the rise.
Investigators say the Gypsies knock on doors of unsuspecting residents and get them to come outside.
Detectives say once outside, one of the burglars distracts while the other goes through the back of the home. Once inside, the burglar takes anything of value without the resident even knowing it.
Flamingo Park resident Julie Holdefehr did not know about the issue until her neighborhood association sent out an e-mail warning of the Gypsy travelers. "My first reaction was, 'they're here in Florida too?' " said Holdefehr.
Holdefehr has lived in her neighborhood for six years and was surprised to see a warning about "Gypsy Travelers" pop into her inbox.
"I've seen people that kind of reminded me of what would be considered Gypsies," said Holdefehr.
Holdefehr said until she read the notice, she never thought Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast had an invasion of Gypsy burglars who were going from neighborhood to neighborhood.
"I think it does kind of come as a shock to people. When they think about Gypsies, maybe it conjures up the images of a fortune teller," said Sheriff William Snyder of the Martin County Sheriff's Office.
Sheriff Snyder said Gypsies look like an average citizen. He said they speak in an unwritten language, travel in pairs and are known for distraction burglaries.
"They tend to be very quiet, very understated. I know of no incidents where they've been violent. They're opportunists," said Snyder.
Sheriff Snyder said the Gypsy burglars are far from being homeless and are just like any other organized crime unit.
They are seasonal and according to sheriff Snyder, the Gypsies are targeting South Florida.
Holdefehr said she will be closely watching her neighborhood. "You know it just doesn't make you feel comfortable," she said.
Sheriff Snyder said the best way for anyone to prevent themselves from becoming a victim is by never going outside for anyone who is offering unsolicited work.
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