ROYAL HIGHLANDS — Houses in the Royal Highlands section of northwest Hernando County have been hit hard in recent months by thieves seeking to plunder foreclosed homes, the Hernando County Sheriff's Office reported on Thursday.
Thieves have targeted houses throughout the county and across Florida, looking to strip them of appliances, copper wiring and pipes and other valuables, according to a public awareness notice. The thieves scrap the appliances and/or parts for a small fraction of the actual value.
Among those hardest hit in Hernando County have been houses in the area along Cortez Boulevard west of Sunshine Grove Road, north to Citrus County. Between March 1, 2009, and March 10, 2010, 81 homes have either been burglarized or had copper stolen from air-conditioning units. The loss of property during that time frame totals $64,990, the report states.
The Sheriff's Office offers these tips to the public to help law enforcement apprehend the thieves:
• Be vigilant in your neighborhood and report suspicious vehicles and/or activity around vacant homes.
• Record the serial numbers of all of appliances. In order for law enforcement to enter the item into the national stolen data base, they must have make, model and serial number.
• Criminals can dress like repairmen and/or construction personnel to make them look legitimate; so if you see people removing appliances or working on air conditioners at abandoned homes, call the Sheriff's Office. Try to obtain a vehicle description, tag number, direction of travel and description of the suspect without putting yourself in danger.
• Report classified ads that seem "too good to be true," especially if they are selling appliances. If you see the same seller with multiple listings of similar items, report it.
• Report all-terrain vehicle operators who appear to be "casing" homes in the area. Detectives have information that ATV riders could be locating perspective houses to loot and sometimes even entering homes and stealing smaller items. If you see ATV operators driving with a backpack, pillow case or other item that can be used to carry stolen items, report it.