Thieves targeting open houses in central Indiana

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As the real estate season takes off, sellers beware. Thieves are targeting open houses.

Open houses are open invitations to everyone, including people no one wants in their home.

"When I see an open house, I see an opportunity for the seller and an opportunity for thieves," explained realtor Jack Carr Boyd.

"It can be scary, and it is to some level," he added.

An associate broker with the Prudential Indiana Realty Group, Boyd has collected seven pages of internal crime reports and warnings issued by the Metropolitan Indianapolis Board of Realtors (MIBOR).

Based on information in the reports, these aren't spur-of-the-moment crimes. They appear planned out. Men and women, some college age, work in teams. One distracts the realtor while the other gets down to business.

The reports describe the perpetrators rummaging through draws and closets, taking hidden jewelry and money, clearing medicine cabinets of prescription drugs and lifting electronics, laptops, iPads and checkbooks from desks.

Stephanie Payne is helping her mom get ready for their open house. She sounded confident.

"We have hidden things away more sneakily that some other people would," she said.

That may not be enough. There are instances of thieves using open houses to case the place and plan ahead.

"They go through and open windows and doors and locks, hoping you forget one when you lock up, and they come back later," Boyd said.

He warns his clients of the risks and requires them to sign a liability waiver before having an open house.

Open houses are as close as a computer or smart phone. Internet listings have pictures, descriptions and details, making choosing the right one easier for buyers and thieves.

MIBOR thefts have been reported in Marion, Hamilton, Shelby and Hendricks Counties.

How do you protect yourself? Realtors recommend locking up prescription drugs, jewelry, and other valuables in a safe, or closet. If that's not possible, consider putting everything in a suitcase. Take it with you for the open house as well as individual showings.

Some real estate agents have had trouble keeping track of suspicious looking buyers even during scheduled appointments.

As the spring home sales market begins to heat up with buyers, and those pretending to be, the message is seller beware.