DAVENPORT – Someone knocks on your door, and makes what sounds like a great offer. For a fee, they can do some much needed repair work at your house – roofing, painting, coating, or asphalt work. It seems like a good deal, particularly for seniors who often have a difficult time finding a reliable handyman to complete work that they’re no longer physically able to do.
But if someone does knock on your door this holiday season offering to do that kind of repair work, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office has a word of advice for the homeowners: slam the door in their face.
The sheriff’s office is warning residents in the Davenport and Four Corners area to be weary of traveling scam artists who deputies say earn their living by preying on local residents, particularly seniors.
The scams usually involve offers to homeowners and businesses to perform some construction jobs — as long as they get an up front fee paid before the work begins. But once the so-called ‘Travelers’ get a down-payment or full-payment on the promised work from their victims, the sheriff’s office warns, they either leave town, start and don’t complete the work, or provide shoddy service.
“These individuals may drive expensive looking vehicles with out of state tags and have out of state telephone numbers. Trucks may be complete with equipment racks and ‘tools of the trade’,” said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd. “But don’t be fooled – these criminals will promise work and either won’t deliver or they will cheat you with worthless products or services.”
Donna C. Wood, public information officer for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, said they decided to issue the warning again today because they got contacted by the Lake County Sheriff’s Office about a victim of these Travelers in South Lake County near Four Corners, and also because both counties tend to get an increased number of these scam reports in the winter, as snowbirds flock to the region.
“We’ve heard there was a victim in Lake County, so we’re sharing information and letting people know about this,” Wood said. “We want to make sure people are aware of this.”
Wood said residents of Northeast Polk County and Davenport should be particularly on guard now for anyone who knocks on their door asking if they need some repair work done.
Just because the report of the first victim came from Lake County, she said, “It doesn’t mean they are not migrating through the entire community. And at this time of year, we have more people living up there.”
Wood said Polk County residents should ask for several things before hiring anyone who shows up at their door soliciting for work, including a valid Florida contractor’s license and proof of insurance.
Businesses are also required to have a permit to solicit from the Polk County Clerk of Court’s Office, and all contractors need to have a Business Tax Receipt from the Polk County Tax Collector’s Office. Residents should ask to see all of these licenses and permits before they hire anyone.
Anyone who doesn’t have that paperwork are either fraudulent or in violation of state law and county ordinances, Wood said.
As Wood noted, “Regardless of how ‘professional’ travelers may appear, proof of their professional credentials is essential.“
Judd added, “Be aware of criminals like these and notify law enforcement immediately if you feel you have been a victim of a traveling scam artist. Our deputies will maintain a heavy presence anywhere travelers temporarily reside until Polk County is rid of this criminal element.”
The sheriff’s office is advising homeowners that their best bet is to avoid doing business with any ‘contractor’ that has an out-of-state vehicle license, and to instead contact a local — and trusted or well-established — construction company and ask for references for contractors in the area.
Anyone who has been approached by Travelers can report them to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office at 863-298-6200.
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