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St. Pete, Tampa PD investigate elderly scams

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Mary Porter, 84, says the scammers claimed to be spraying for spiders Mary Porter, 84, says the scammers claimed to be spraying for spiders
TAMPA, FL (WFLA) -

Police in Tampa and St. Petersburg are investigating a rash of scams targeting the elderly. 

St. Petersburg has at least seven cases and Tampa at least two.  Authorities say the scams may be related.

In St. Petersburg, two men ripped off 84-year old Mary Porter on Wednesday. One of the men initially told her he wanted to trim some of her hedges in the backyard.

"And then he started in on this, oh you have brown recluse spiders, they're all over. You have them. We have to get rid of them," Porter said.  "And I said well, what will you do? He said well I spray them with pure acid. And I said what?"

She says the man proceeded to spray "acid" on the spiders.

"So he's spraying around and he purposely sprayed my hand, and then the older man started screaming, I got some on my face. We have to have milk, we have to have milk right away," said Porter.

Investigators say the men dunked her hand in milk to neutralize the "acid" and then made off with her jewelry.

St. Petersburg Police spokesman Mike Puetz says the men have changed their method of operation, and that makes them more difficult to catch.

"They were initially going out trying to get people to come out of their house under the guise of we want to repair your sea wall or something like that," said Puetz. "And generally, while one had them out back, the other guy would go in through the front door and that's the way they operate. Then they went to a situation where they represented themselves as city water workers. "

Tampa Police say that's what the scam artists are doing in South Tampa. According to a news release, the latest case happened on Wednesday around 3:00 PM. Authorities say the suspect approached an elderly woman at her home, and identified himself as a water department employee.

Police say he told the 83-year-old victim that he was repairing a water main break in the area and that he needed to check the water in her kitchen. Investigators say the victim escorted him back to the kitchen where he spoke on a cell phone for part of the 20 minutes he spent in the house.

The victim noticed that the suspect was relaying her address during the phone conversations. She became suspicious and asked him to leave. Later that day, the victim and her son discovered cash and jewelry from the home missing. She believes the con man was on the phone with an accomplice who entered the home while they were in the kitchen.

The men in both the St. Petersburg and Tampa cases are described as Hispanic.  Both are in their 30's or 40's.  In the Tampa case, police believe the men were driving a white truck with a topper.  The suspects in the St. Petersburg case were driving a gray or silver minivan. 

Anyone with any information on either case is urged to call the police.

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