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Homeowners warned about scammers

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 07:07 PM
TAMPA -

When disaster strikes, so do scammers.

"I think in a situation like this, you'll have more opportunistic people who might be unemployed and happen to have a truck and a chainsaw," said Kevin Jackson, chief Investigator with Hillsborough County Protection Services.

Tropical storm Debby has left Tampa Bay neighborhoods ripe with this kind of "opportunity." Downed trees, roof damage and standing water all are things crooks promise to clean up, but don't.

Jackson, along with law enforcement and consumer groups in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Polk counties say they've seen this type of scam every time there's weather damage. The agencies have sent news releases to warn homeowners.

They say crooks range from opportunistic criminals, to unscrupulous contractors who'll do shoddy work for quick cash, to professional, out-of-state scammers who make a living by conning homeowners.

"The worst-case scenario is they say they want to get paid up-front, and they're going to finish this job down the street and will be right back," Jackson said. "Then they never show up. That's the worst case. It happens with fencers and landscapers and tree cutters."

Here are some red flags to look for:

Another tip: ask to see a business tax receipt from the county tax collector, a soliciting permit from the clerk of the courts, a Florida contractor's license and proof of insurance. If you ask for these, crooks will typically bail.

Jackson also suggests checking the company's license and complaint history with the Better Business Bureau and your county's consumer protection office.

"Get two or three or four estimates," Jackson said. "Interview them, find out how long they've been around, check complaint history. If you just do a little bit of prevention, it will save you down the road."

Another tactic of scammers, according to the Polk County Sheriff's Office: They say they're checking for damage for their employer. Usually, they claim that employer is an insurance company, cable or phone service provider. Once inside your home, they or a partner steal your belongings.

These scammers typically prey on the elderly, and people they think won't complain to authorities. If you're suspicious of a contractor, call your local law enforcement agency.


sbehnken@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7804 Twitter: @shannonbehnken
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