The Mystery of the Man with the U-Haul Truck
September 14, 2011 10:15 AM   Subscribe

My mother had an unsettling experience at her home this evening between 5 and 5:30 p.m. Does this person who came to her door sound like a scammer or a criminal?

My mother was watching TV in her den at the back of the house. The wooden front door to her house was open, and opens directly into her living room, but the glass-and-iron security door was closed and locked. (So anyone standing on her front porch would be able to see inside.) She was not in the living room, but in the den at the back of the house. Her car was in the carport, and was visible from the street. Someone rang her doorbell and she went to the front door and saw a man standing there. She didn't open the locked security door, but just spoke to him through the door. The man said, "I knew someone named Renee lives here, but now that see you, I know you're not the person I'm looking for." She said, "Okay," and he left. There was a U-Haul truck parked at the street in front of the house, which he got into and drove away.

At first she didn't think much of it, but the more she thought about it, the more puzzled she got. Why would he have come to her house? The fact that he knew a Renee lived there suggests that he had been looking at public records. And why the U-Haul? He was a middle-aged man, and he didn't look particularly distinctive.

Does this sound like a potential scam or crime? What potential crime or scam could this have been?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
No, likely just a misunderstanding. Unless something further happens, I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:17 AM on September 14, 2011

I'm guessing...he knew someone named Renee who used to live there and wanted to check it out.

I suppose he could have been casing the place. Hard to say.
posted by noxetlux at 10:20 AM on September 14, 2011

Maybe a repoman?
posted by rich at 10:21 AM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

On the bad side, it could have been a burglary attempt. Since someone was home, the burglar left. Having a U-Haul provides cargo capacity, and its presence would not alarm the neighbors since the resident would either be moving out, transporting deliveries to the house.

On the good side, someone named Renee asked for help moving furniture or a lot of items, and gave the wrong address to the man. Or, the man took a wrong turn and mistook the house for Renee's. You didn't mention if there was a previous owner/tenant named Renee, so these are just guesses.
posted by CancerMan at 10:23 AM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Has someone named Renee ever lived there? How long has your mother lived there?

This is one of those things where it's impossible to say. He might have been a crook, ringing the door to see if anyone was home, and when your mother answered he used the Renee story as an excuse to why he was there.

Or, he may have been driving by in a U-Haul on his way to his storage unit and said "hey, that's where Renee used to live!"

In future, if that happens, maybe your mom could ask "Renee who?" or ask him who he is.
posted by bondcliff at 10:23 AM on September 14, 2011

Whoops, I meant that the presence of a U-Haul in a burglary would make it seem like the resident was moving out, or receiving a delivery.
posted by CancerMan at 10:24 AM on September 14, 2011

That's a little shady, yeah. In the modern world, it's not that common to lose track of someone to the extent you have to ring doorbells. And if you did, wouldn't you ask questions like, "Do you know when Renee moved away?" or "Where can I find her?" instead of just bolting?

It doesn't merit the police or anything, but she could keep her eyes open.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:26 AM on September 14, 2011

I'm confused - is your mother's name Renee? It's possible he is looking for someone from his past who shares your mother's name, and when he saw her, he realized she isn't the right one.
posted by something something at 10:29 AM on September 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

The fact that he knew a Renee lived there suggests that he had been looking at public records.

So do you mean your mother's name is, in fact, Renee? It's not entirely clear from your question.
posted by Nothlit at 10:29 AM on September 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

If your mom's name is Renee my guess would be that he is in some sort of a relationship with another lady who shares your mother's name and possibly lives in the same area.

I think he's looking for somebody else and won't bother your mom again.

(Maybe he's some creepy weirdo who's stalking a person with your mom's name and Renee's going to get a nasty shock when he finds her. Short of looking up every person with that name, I don't think there is anything you can do.)
posted by TooFewShoes at 10:39 AM on September 14, 2011

Mod note: From the OP:
Yes, my mother's name is Renee. She has lived in that house over ten years, probably closer to fifteen. I am pretty sure the previous owner lived there a long time and was not named Renee.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:10 AM on September 14, 2011

It sounds to me like he was on the wrong street or something. Maybe he was getting an old bedroom set or something from the sister of a friend of his, Renee. Someone he knows, but not well. Hence the truck. he thought he remembered where she lives, but realized his error when he saw your mom.

Not too scary.
posted by readery at 11:10 AM on September 14, 2011

The police are also the Dept of Public Safety. If somebody is casing houses, they should know. If it's happening a lot, and they are told, they can begin to address it. If it's not a pattern, no big deal.

Does Mom feel safe?
posted by theora55 at 11:27 AM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Having your mother's name be Renee makes this less suspicious to me. Someone was trying to find some other Renee's place and got the last name wrong while looking it up in the phone book. This sounds more likely than a burglary attempt where I don't see why they would care about the person's name at all. If it was a scam, why would they stop talking to her so quickly?
posted by demiurge at 11:51 AM on September 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

My neighborhood has been hit by a rash of people backing into driveways, knocking on doors and making excuses about looking for other people when the homeowner answers the door.

My neighborhood has also been hit by a rash of smash-and-grabs.

I am the suspicious sort. The police in our neighborhood have instructed us to call 911 when this happens. They'd rather do a drive through and see if the behavior is being repeated than to deal with the after-effects.

Also, does your mother have an active neighborhood community . . . a listserv?
If so, notify them to keep an eye out for a pattern.
posted by Seamus at 11:54 AM on September 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

She should report it to the police. They may want to follow up, or they may not, depending on what's going on locally. Some burglars will wait until people go on vacation, then use a truck to pretend to be moving the victim out when, in reality, they are stealing everything victim owns.

On the other hand, it would be unusual for a burglar to try to make contact with a homeowner, so who knows?

When mom talks to the police, she should ask if they have information available on making the home less attractive to burglars. It's never unwise to make your home less attractive to criminals.
posted by Hylas at 12:07 PM on September 14, 2011

It seems like a possible burglary attempt because if you're going to go through the trouble of renting a U-Haul (or using a U-Haul you have in your possession through nefarious means), you can just as easily go through the trouble of finding out the name of who lives there, so that if anyone questions you, you can just say that you're a "friend of Renee's."

This is risky, for tons of reasons, but less risky than going in with no plan at all, and anyway, people who break and enter in a country with our Second Amendment obviously aren't opposed to risk.

But this is the worst case scenario read of what could be innocuous. Somebody could have been driving through town on a move and looked up a Renee with the same last name -- or a Renee whose last name they thought they knew -- and stopped by. (You mentioned public records, but is your mom's name/number listed in the phone book? I'm curious how public/what kind of public her information might be.) This may seem odd to those of us who spend lots of time reading about proper social etiquette on Ask MetaFilter -- that someone would just drop in on someone else without so much as a by your leave -- but those who might stop by the house of someone whose last name and/or address we don't even know, but the people who will do this aren't operating under common sense.

All that said, even if my worst case read of the situation is at all correct, I still don't think your mom necessarily has anything to worry about. Casing some place to get the name is only as difficult as seeing what mail gets delivered there, so they have probably moved on. I'd still call 311 or a non-emergency police number and report it though, for the reasons already mentioned, and if she knows them, give her neighbors a heads up too.

tl;dr People are strange (especially) when they're a stranger -- so you really can't read anything else, and as much as I'm loathe to add to the "when you see something, say something" culture, I'd say something.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:11 PM on September 14, 2011

Is your mom listed in the phone book under her full name? If so, sounds like he was casing the place.
posted by brujita at 12:17 PM on September 14, 2011

I agree with letting the cops know via the non-emergency contact number. They have more info at hand to decide whether or not this is shady.
posted by smirkette at 12:23 PM on September 14, 2011

I'm with Seamus on this - I listen to a police scanner for 20+hrs each week for work and that sounds like one of the several robbery set-ups that come across on a reliable basis.
posted by batmonkey at 12:27 PM on September 14, 2011

Just to be on the safe side --- better safe than sorry and all that! --- make sure your mom locks up securely: all windows and doors should be secured when she's out of the house, at night, or in the backyard gardening/at the neighbor's drinking coffee & not in view of those windows and doors.

And that goodness she's got that security door!
posted by easily confused at 12:45 PM on September 14, 2011

It is a lot easier being a successful burglar if you appear boring and not at all the burgling type. It was either casing or innocent, and if its innocent, you'll be the only one reporting it and the police will drop it -- but if its casing, there will be a pattern. Call 'em, non-emergency, ask for the local desk.
posted by davejay at 3:18 PM on September 14, 2011

Just thought of something: how does your mom receive her mail? Is it shoved inside the house through a slot in the door, or does she use an exterior mailbox, either at the street or on the wall next to her front door? (And how about outgoing mail: is it left out handy for the mailman to take with him?)

I was thinking of this guy asking for Renee, and it seems a little extreme to picture a prospective burglar checking public records for the names of homeowners; it ISN'T hard to believe what that prospective burglar might actually be stealing is mail, for identity theft purposes......
posted by easily confused at 3:54 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

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