BLOOMINGTON - A man using a sob story to talk his way into Bloomington homes has scammed older city residents of small amounts of cash at least 10 times in a few months, police said.

Bloomington police officer Gary Sutherland said the man is pretending to be a new neighbor who bought fuel but forgot his wallet and needs to use a phone. The man claims to work at a local tire shop and says he plans to pay back the $20 to $40 given to him each time, the officer said.

The man appears to be targeting older, established neighborhoods with many retirees, Sutherland said.

"They grew up in an era when you helped your neighbor," Sutherland said of the scam victims.

In about two-thirds of the incidents, the man didn't ask for cash, Sutherland said. But people believed his stories and thought he would repay them.

Normal Assistant Police Chief Kirk Ijams said someone was performing a similar scam in the town about eight months ago. But the department did not have any similar reports recently, he said.

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"If it happened in Bloomington, it could very well happen in Normal," Ijams said, adding he hopes people will use caution before giving money to strangers.

Ijams also said he doesn't recommend people allowing strangers into their homes, regardless of whether they are asking for help. He said people should call police if someone is acting suspiciously.

Sutherland said some people have not been reporting the losses to police, but trying to get their money back at the tire shop where the man has said he works. The officer said he has called some of those people after he received calls from that shop.

Sutherland suggested that if unfamiliar people come to the door at night and ask for help, residents ask them to stay on the porch while they call police and try to get them help.

Witnesses have described the man as 5 feet 8 inches to 5 feet 10 inches tall with a medium build, between 35 and 40 years old and with crew cut-style brown hair and gray hair at the temples and sideburns, Sutherland said.

The man was also often riding a bicycle.


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