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Locals warned against home-improvement scams

Dite: Spring is the season for increase in repair schemes

Published: Thursday, April 19, 2012 9:00 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, April 19, 2012 1:27 p.m. CDT

As temperatures rise and locals begin to start their home improvement to-do lists, local law enforcement agencies are warning citizens to be on their guard against common home repair-related scams.

Morris Police Chief Brent Dite said spring is the season when agencies tend to see an increase in home-repair scams because many are starting to tackle tasks like staining the deck or fixing a roof.

"It's just the time they normally do it," he said. "These people who are preying on people, this is the prime time to come out and solicit and get away with their scam."

He said door-to-door solicitors will often approach homeowners with an offer they can't refuse on home repair services, like driveway sealing or blacktopping, roof repairs and replacements or gutter work.

"What makes it kind of enticing is that they'll shoot them such a good price the person will say, 'Oh my gosh, I can't say no to this,'" Dite said. "It's like the old saying — if it sounds too good to be true, in all likelihood, it is."

In the end, the work that is done could be substandard, or the materials could be poor quality.

Often, the victims of these types of scams are senior citizens, Dite said. In some schemes, Dite said it's been reported that people have worked in teams to entice a homeowner out of their home while another goes into the home to steal valuables.

He said in any case, with a door-to-door solicitor, it's best for a resident to request proof that they have obtained their required permit from the police department or local law enforcement agency, and that they remain in their home. He said it's also important to not be pressured into making a decision on the spot.

"Schedule another meeting and have a family member present," Dite said. "... In all likelihood, if it's a scam, the people probably aren't going to come back."

Sgt. Jeff Cole of the Grundy County Sheriff's Office said it's important for any person working with a contractor to get any offer in writing, to make sure the end cost is not higher than the initial quote and that the homeowner can hold the contractor to the terms of the contract.

Cole said locals who are approached by solicitors should also make sure they know who they are dealing with, and to seek out references of a business' work or recommendations from people they trust.

"Make sure it's a reputable business," he said. "We tend to know our local businesses better than some of these businesses that are here today and gone tomorrow."

Dite said it's important for citizens to know that many times solicitors are a part of a fly-by-night crowd.

"A lot of these people are transient and they're travelers," Dite said. 

To make things more difficult for investigators after the fact, he said that scammers also often don't use their real names or give false identification to those asking.

Both Dite and Cole said residents should do their homework before making decisions, and also call local law enforcement if they encounter solicitors who are going door-to-door in their neighborhoods without permits or are unsure if who they are dealing with is a legitimate business. They placed a particular emphasis on prevention when it comes to scams.

"It's difficult to locate them after they've left," Cole said.

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