By Elizabeth Hur

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – 3 is On Your Side with a warning for homeowners about a rash of burglaries.

Police say the suspects are breaking in – in a very unlikely way.

There have been at least four thefts reported in South Philadelphia since mid-July. The most recent break-in was reported Tuesday afternoon.

It happens in broad daylight and police say the thieves are getting into the homes by removing the front door mail slots.

“Violated, absolutely.”

We talked to one of the victims who wished to remain anonymous.

“They unscrewed it and ripped it off. At the same time, they put their hand through to undo the dead bolt down at the bottom.”

According to police, they received the first report on July 14th from the 700 block of Rodman Street. The homeowner told police, it happened between 7/2/12-7/14/12. The second report came in on August 19th from the 2000 block of Kater Street. The homeowner reported that it happened between 8/17/12-8/19/12. The third report came in on August 30th in the 800 block of Swanson Street. The break-in happened, according to the homeowner, between 8/28/12-8/30/12.

Then on Tuesday, a fourth victim called to report a similar crime from the unit block of Queen Street. Police were told the burglar, in this case, broke in some time between 8/31/12-9/4/12.

Police released surveillance video from the incident on Kater Street. Investigators believe a man seen talking on the phone may be responsible for stealing more than $50,000 worth of jewels and high-end watches.

Eric Rapp, a neighbor of one of the victims said, “I have to give a lot of credit to the Philadelphia Police. I think my wife and I are probably going to replace the entire door.”

Rapp of Swanson Street says that’s in response to a notice he and his neighbors received from the police.

In the email alert, police provided the following tips to protect your home:

– If your mail-slot is within reach of your front door’s door knob or dead bolt, consider replacing the door with a mail-slot that is located lower in the door. If this isn’t practical and/or affordable, consider installing a smaller mail-slot that cannot be reached through, or sealing off the mail-slot and installing a wall-mounted (locking) mailbox outside of your front door. There are mail-slots available that have a sealed bin (which is locked) on the inside of the door where your mail will collect (but cannot be directly reached into).

– Always secure your windows and doors while you are away, even if only for a few minutes but especially for long periods of time and at night. Pay particular attention to ground floor and out of sight (such as rear or side) entrance ways.
Consider the use of security or motion lighting, especially near out of sight entrance ways. Also, consider trimming shrubbery near windows and doors which thieves may use to conceal themselves.

– If you have an alarm system, make sure it is armed and your monitoring company has updated emergency contact information. If you are allowing anyone to be inside while you are away, be sure to provide them a temporary code and notify your monitoring company who has permission in case police are inadvertently called.

– Even if you don’t have an alarm system, stickers and signs can be purchased and placed in visible locations around your property which imply you do and may deter thieves. The same goes for a “beware of dog” sign.

– Bring all valuables (such as your grill, bicycles or metal benches) inside if possible. If not, secure them with case-hardened chains and locks. Transparent, shatter-proof film can be purchased and placed on vulnerable windows.

– Remove window air-conditioning units, which can be easily removed for theft or to gain access inside, whenever possible. Also, secure any ladders and remove objects from under windows on which thieves could stand on to climb inside. Remove any items that can be opportunistically used to break windows or locks (like tools or even large rocks) from your yard and around your home.

– Don’t leave valuables, credit card, car keys or cash in open spaces when you plan to be out, take steps to move them to a secure location in case a thief does get into your home.

– Ask someone you trust to collect your papers, packages and mail or have them held at the post office while you’re away. When mail piles up not only does it become a target for theft, but it lets thieves know no one has been home for a while. Also, consider the use of automatic timed lighting devices both inside and outside of your home while you are away.

– Record the serial numbers of all of your valuable electronics and keep it in a safe place, it may help Police to trace and track them if stolen.

– Notify your local police station that you will be away so periodic checks can be made on your property. Make sure you provide emergency contact information and a list of anyone who is allowed to be on or in your property while you’re away.

The police alert went onto read: “The best thing you can do to prevent crime is to be alert, be safe, be smart and be neighborly. Keep an eye on your neighbor’s home and ask that they do the same for you!”

Police say at this time, they do not have suspect descriptions to release. Investigators are hoping to hear from anyone who may recognize the man caught in the surveillance video from Kater Street.

Anyone with information is urged to contact the Philadelphia Police Department’s South Detective Division at 215-686-3013.

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