Police in Tampa and St. Petersburg are trying to track down two men suspected of scamming nearly a dozen elderly victims by posing as servicemen.
Mary Porter says it all started with an unexpected guest in her backyard garden.
"He said, 'I'm working for the man behind you and we're trimming. You have to show me in the back'," Porter said Friday.
As she walked behind her house to pinpoint her property line, her 95-year-old husband was greeted by another stranger, banging on the front door.
"Usually, when people come they knock gently. They ring the bell. You open the door and invite them in. But boy, he just barged in the house as if he was going to take over," Archie Porter said.
Meanwhile, the man outside claimed brown recluse spiders had infested the Porters' backyard.
"He started spraying, and then he purposefully sprayed my hand. And then he started screaming, saying, 'Oh, that's acid! We have to go into the house and get milk!" she said.
Porter says the man followed her inside, poured milk in a bowl, and told her to wash her hands and rings in it. He said it was the only way to wash away the acid.
Minutes later, the two men were gone and so were her rings -- a loss of nearly $30,000.
"I realized immediately when they went out the door. I looked at the bowl and the rings were gone," Mary said.
Police believe the suspects are specifically targeting the Boca Ciega Bay area, where seven different homes have been hit within a one-mile radius.
"They look for places where A) people are maybe well off. And B) people may be older, and consequently, easier to take advantage of," St. Petersburg Police Department's Mike Puetz said Friday.
Police are also investigating three similar cases clustered in south Tampa. As they search for the serial scammers, Mary is left missing two of her most prized possessions.
"I would love to have it back because those rings meant a lot to me. But I can get along without them," she said.
St. Petersburg Police believe they've identified the van the two men are traveling in. It's a gray or silver early-2000 model minivan. You're asked to call St. Pete Police at 727-893-7780 if it may look familiar or you believe you've been victimized.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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