BARTOW — Your roof has seen better days, your home needs a paint job, your cracked driveway could use new seals.
If you’re a senior who no longer can handle doing home repair work like this yourself, it might seem like an answer to your prayers if a handyman shows up at your door, offering to make those repairs for you at a reasonable price.
Then again, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd is warning, it could all be little more than an underhanded effort to rip those seniors off.
Door-to-door solicitation of home repair work, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office is warning area residents, can be a prime vocation for traveling scam artists who prey on the elderly. As the sheriff’s office noted in a news release, “Although there are several variations of the scam, there is one common theme – it sounds too good to be true, and probably is.”
Just how the scam works is simple. A man stops by a local home saying he’s been in the neighborhood doing construction and home improvement work. Fortunately, he has some leftover material he’d be willing to use to complete projects at the senior’s house — and, even better, he can do it for a “significant discount.”
“Two common offers are sealing driveways, or roofing repairs,” the sheriff’s office noted. “The suspect is typically driving a truck or large vehicle, but without any company decals or logos on it. The suspect is not wearing any clothing or items affiliated with a business, and will not have business cards.”
They ask for some money up front — and once they get it, they just as quickly disappear, leaving behind a frustrated senior who is now out of hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
These scams are not new, but they are unfortunately quite persistent. Polk County Sheriff’s undercover detectives have been working with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the Florida Department of Financial Services, and the Florida Highway Patrol all year to target fake home repair operators.
Working with prosecutors from the State Attorney’s Office for the 10th Judicial Circuit, the sheriff’s office conducted an investigation in January targeting home repair businesses that were unlicensed and uninsured to do any construction-related work in Polk County, and it resulted in five suspects being arrested.
To avoid becoming the next victim, homeowners are urged to first get a verification from anyone offering to do home repairs that a handyman or contractor is licensed by the state to do this kind of work. Area residents can get this information by visiting the Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s Web site at www.myfloridalicense.com.
Another good source is the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation in Tallahassee, which can be reached by calling 850-922-8981.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office also has some advice for anyone who gets a knock on their door from a contractor offering to do home improvements.
First, always ask for a written estimate on all home repair offers. Take the time to compare what that individual is charging, compared to businesses in the area that are fully licensed to operate.
“Con artists are notorious for charging a higher price for inferior materials and unnecessary repairs,” the sheriff’s office notes. “Without a written estimate, victims get trapped into paying extremely high total costs when the job is ‘finished.’ ”
It’s also important not to let a door-to-door solicitor rush anyone into what
they’re claiming is a “special bargain” or “one-time” offer, such as a handyman who insists he has materials like excess asphalt or tar from another job that he’s willing to use on your home at a cheap rate.
“Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” the sheriff’s office warns.
Be wary of contractors with an out-of-state license plate, don’t make any payments until all of the work has been completed, and keep in mind that any legitimate Polk County home repair business is going to have a Business Tax Receipt from the Polk County Tax Collector, a soliciting permit from the Clerk of the Courts, and a Florida Contractor’s License.
“If they do not have all of these, do not do business with them,” the sheriff’s office warns. “Your best option is not to do business with any travelling soliciting contractor. Contact local trusted construction companies and ask for references for honest local contractors.”
Residents are also urged to report any home repair offers that sound suspicious to the Sheriff’s Office at 863-298-6200.
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