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Woman's water test story indicates possible scam

His story just didn't add up, Irene Roop thought.

The man at her doorstep said he was a contractor with the county doing work on the roadway and that he needed to test her water. He didn't have any identification. The woman beside him never spoke.

What followed, authorities said, may be a cautionary tale about scam artists.

It was about 4 p.m. Thursday. The man told Roop he would lose his job if he didn't check her water. He wanted the woman to also come inside Roop's house.

Roop, 83, a retired school office worker, resisted.

"The water's fine," she recalled saying.

The man brushed Roop aside, went into her kitchen, took a cup and drew some water from the tap. Wary of the man, Roop said, she stayed by the door so she could escape if something happened.

Nothing did.

The man walked back to the front door, agreeing the water was fine.

"You've been very kind about it," he told Roop, then kissed her hand.

The pair left her house, got in a car in which a second man was waiting and drove away down Orange Street.

Still suspicious, Roop phoned county officials about the water test. They told her to call the Sheriff's Office; she might have just been scammed, they said.

A deputy came to Roop's house. Nothing was stolen, but Roop's account was worrisome.

It sounded too familiar to detectives.

A few times a year, they investigate cases in which people posing as utility workers or other officials con their way inside a home, then steal valuables, sheriff's spokesman Mac McMullen said. They typically work in pairs so one can distract the victim while the other steals.

Investigators think Roop may have thwarted the con artists by keeping an eye on the man and not allowing the woman inside. McMullen said detectives were considering whether similar cases in Tampa may be connected to the same suspects.

The man who came to Roop's door was described as 5 feet 6 inches tall, weighing 160 pounds and with a thin build, short black hair and a goatee. The woman with him was described as 5 feet 5 inches tall, weighing 140 pounds and with a medium build and long black hair.

No description was given of the the man waiting inside the group's small white vehicle.

Roop, who said she was lucky, offered this advice: "You just have to be cautious. Don't open your door. Make sure they show you a badge."

TO HELP

Anyone with information about the case is asked to call sheriff's Detective Ed Crandall at (727) 582-6200 or Crime Stoppers toll-free at 1-800-873-8477.

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