Washington area police are cautioning women not to respond to telephone inquiries from a woman who claims she is surveying consumers for a national lingerie company but instead along with a partner has used the guise as a lead-in to obscene telephone calls.
The harassment, police officials said, appears to be coming from a couple who get sexual gratification by terrifying women over the telephone.
The calls first began in Frederick more than three years ago and appear to be moving south, according to police.
Maryland state police said they have had about 100 complaints in Frederick. Montgomery County police report 50 to 60 complaints that started in Damascus in March 1982 and recently moved south to Gaithersburg.
Complaint figures were not available yesterday for Fairfax County, but police spokeswoman Carol Kitrzerow said officers have received complaints in some of the county's seven stations, the most recent on Wednesday.
The calls have followed the same pattern, police said. According to Kathleen O'Neill, who got a phone call at her Damascus home one afternoon last fall, the woman caller said she was taking a consumer survey for a lingerie company. O'Neill told the woman details of her physical appearance, what colors and fabrics she likes and how often she wore skirts instead of pants. The woman promised to send a gift set of lingerie and O'Neill gave her the telephone number of a neighbor who might also respond to the survey in exchange for a gift.
"I had a gut feeling that something wasn't kosher. But then again, I figured they were the kinds of questions a lingerie company would ask," O'Neill, a 34-year-old nurse, said yesterday. "Twenty minutes later, my neighbor called and she was hysterical. She said she'd gotten a phone call from a . . . man who said he had me and the kids."
O'Neill's neighbor, Carol Pickett, 30, remembers her terror. "He told me to get all my money and get down there to O'Neill's house . I said, 'Okay,' and hung up on him," Pickett said. "Then I called the police right away."
Pickett said the call began with the woman impersonating O'Neill and acting as if she were being attacked, a pattern police said all of the calls follow. The descriptions of the attacks are often sexually oriented. No one has ever tried to collect any money, police said.
Maryland state police officer James R. Kerns said the calls, which usually happen around 9 a.m. or 3:30 p.m., are almost impossible to trace. "Don't talk to anyone in that vein," he advised. "Needless to say, no one's ever received their free gift."