As warmer weather has come to the area, so have the home repair and tree and lawn service scammers. These scammers target people with the intent of taking advantage of them financially. Although these types of scams occur year-round, areas often experience an increase in these criminal acts after storms and in the spring and summer. Since March 1, there have been 12 of these scams reported to the Police Department; the incidents have occurred throughout the County. The cases are actively being investigated by detectives with the assistance and guidance of the Office of Consumer Protection and the State’s Attorney’s Office. Investigators believe that there are a number of different suspects involved in these 12 cases.
A common scamming scenario: A scammer knocks on a homeowner’s door, states that he/she works for a tree service or home repair company, and says that he is doing work for a neighbor (which is a lie). He says that he has noticed a hazardous situation at the person’s home. He offers to fix the problem and offers a “good deal” (usually it’s work at an inflated or even sometimes exorbitant price). The scammer conveniently has some extra materials that he can use to perform the work. When the homeowner enters an agreement with the scammer, the scammer, who is not licensed nor properly trained to perform the work, might: (1) collect a deposit and then never return to the home, (2) take the resident’s money and perform inferior work that often creates greater problems that are costly to repair, or (3) personally cause damage to the home so that he/she can then “fix” the issue. Sometimes, after fixing one problem, the scammer will “find” additional issues that need to be addressed; the scammers will convince homeowners to continue to hand over more money to fix the never-ending issues.
Who are these scammers?
- While some scammers are transient and routinely travel certain routes, many scammers have an established residency but will travel great distances with the sole purpose of defrauding people. “Woodchucks” is a name given to tree service scammers who live outside of the immediate D.C. region but who travel to this area to commit this type of fraud.
- These criminals don’t go to every door in a neighborhood. They target homes that appear to be in decline or where a vulnerable person may live (such as an older person with memory issues or physical limitations). In 11 of the 12 Montgomery County cases since March, the victim was 70 years or older.
- These criminals will attempt to quickly gain the victim’s trust. They will create a sense of urgency and pressure a person to hire them immediately. If a homeowner questions the quality of their completed work or refuses to pay them more money for additional services, these criminals might use intimidation or fear (“Ill sue you!”) to obtain money.
How Can I Protect Myself and Others from these Scammers?
- Be cautious of door-to-door solicitors who state that they have extra materials or left over supplies from another job and can do the work, and they must start the work immediately.
- Be wary of a person/company who has no printed materials – no written contracts, no business cards, no bid forms, etc.
- When hiring someone to perform work around your home, do your homework:
- Ask for recommendations from friends, family, and neighbors.
- Take time to get 3 to 4 estimates.
- Check with your local Better Business Bureau and their lists of accredited businesses and reviews.
- Research if the company/person performing the work is required to have a license: In Maryland, home improvement companies and tree care companies must be licensed in Maryland to perform work in the state.
- Verify a business’ license status by calling the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection (OCP)at 240-777-3636. OCP has a record of merchant complaints online.
- Insist on a written contract with details on what work will be done, materials to be used, etc. If changes are made as work progresses, ask the contractor to amend the contract to reflect those changes.
- Be mindful of your neighbors and family members, especially those who are older and may be more vulnerable to these scams. Call police if you suspect that someone you know is about to enter into a scam.
Two Recent Scams with Arrest of Suspect in Montgomery County:
- Suspect: Chrisopher Wade Clore, age 31, of Madison Virginia
- Charged via Montgomery County warrant.
- Arrested in Virginia yesterday.
- On November 10, 2015, Clore knocked on the door of a 79-year-old Bethesda resident. He told her that he was working on a house in the area and noticed that a large limb had fallen on her roof and punctured a hole. Clore told the victim that the roof need to be immediately fixed to prevent water from entering the attic. The victim paid Clore $2,132.50 to make repairs. When one of the victim’s family members learned of the repair job, he was doubtful that a limb had fallen on the roof and damaged it; there were no tree limbs close to the house with and the roof was only a year old. The family member inspected the roof and noted a shoddy repair job. He also noted that the hole in the roof was most likely caused by a hammer or hatchet. The family member repaired the roof in approximately one hour and the total cost of the materials to repair the roof was less than $30.
- Clore faces charges to include theft, malicious destruction of property, obtaining property of a vulnerable adult, acting as a contractor without a license, and failure to perform a contract.
- On February 27, 2016, Clore knocked on the door of a 43-year-old Kensington woman and stated that he had performed home improvement work at the home in the past. The victim stated that she needed some work done and Clore said she could complete the work for $550. The victim gave Clore $300 as a down payment and said he would return the next day to make the repairs. Clore then went to the neighbor’s home and pressured his way into the home. He told the resident, who was elderly and in poor health, that she owed him money. She was able to convince him to leave. Clore never returned to the initial victim’s home to perform the agreed upon work.
- Clore faces charges to include theft, acting as a contractor without a license, and failure to perform contract.
The Department urges residents to immediately call police if they believe that someone is committing this type of fraud.
*Note to media: The family member who notified police of the November 10, 2015 scam case is willing to speak to the media. Please call the Public Information Office at 240-773-5030 (option 4) for more information.