With a recent mailing soliciting asphalt paving circulating in Emmetsburg and the area, local law enforcement agencies are renewing their call to the public to be even more vigilant against scams at this time of the year.
"It just seems like when the Summer rolls around, itinerant contractors appear from nowhere," Officer Darrin Adams of the Emmetsburg Police Department said. "The best thing I can tell everyone is to do business with local people and contractors that you know that way you have some recourse if things aren't done right."
Adams cited the recent scam of a Mallard area resident at the end of June by an individual who alleged to have repaired the lightning protection system at the woman's home. After being paid by check, the individual returned and claimed he had mis-quoted the price for parts, and obtained a second check.
Alert bank employees questioned the second check, but the woman was eventually scammed out of over $2,000 for work that was never done. Authorities continue to look for the scam artist in that case.
According to Adams, law enforcement agencies throughout the state share information on scammers, and a group of itinerant contractors have been moving northerly as the Summer progresses, and are near the Palo Alto County area.
"A common type of itinerant contractor is a crew of painters who will paint your grain bins or farm buildings, but they use a low quality paint and disappear with your payment before you find out how poor the paint is," Adams said as an example.
Another scam is for an itinerant contractor to claim to offer a "super deal" on asphalt paving for a driveway because they have an extra truckload of material from a job. The contractor puts the asphalt down, but it is not properly placed, or placed too thin, and once again, the crew disappears with payment before the victim realizes how shoddy the job is.
"The lightning repair scam is one that has been added to the law enforcement watch-list," Adams noted, "but the biggest ones seem to be the painters and the paving crews that are always from out of state. They come in, promise you'll be satisfied, offer you a price that seems too good to be true, and when you pay them, the check is cashed immediately and they disappear. It's almost impossible to find these itinerants and even tougher to get your money back."
Palo Alto County Sheriff Lynn Schultes agrees. "There's very little law enforcement can do about these scam artists unless we are contacted while they are actually at a person's place."
Some scammers will doctor their advertising to use the name of legitimate businesses so that a person might not become suspicious. As an example, a mailing for a contractor provided a website address, which, when checked, routed to a cable television provider, not the contractor doing the advertiser. Contractor vehicles without company logos prominently displayed are another potential warning to the consumer.
"Any time you are contacted by a contractor you do not know, get as much information as you can about them and contact your local law enforcement agency right away," Sheriff Schultes said. "Most importantly, don't give them any money."
Adams agrees. "I tell people all the time that when someone comes to your door, looking for work to do, you should be suspicious. The safest thing to do is call law enforcement and let them know what's going on."
Both members of the law enforcement community are in total agreement on one fact area residents have to be more vigilant than ever about potential scams at this time of year.
"If you have been thinking about having something painted, some paving work done, or maybe new shingles, call a local contractor to do that work," Officer Adams said. "When you call a local contractor, you're calling someone who lives in your community and that people know. That way, if you're not satisfied with the work, you have a way to address it with the contractor."
While Adams and Sheriff Schultes agree there will be more scammers trying different angles in the future, there are still a couple things area residents can do to protect themselves.
"If a deal sounds too good to be true, it usually isn't that good," Sheriff Schultes said. "Don't let yourself be pressured into making any deals with someone you don't know."
"It's always said that you should support your local businesses because they are your neighbors and friends," Adams pointed out. "That's probably the best rule of thumb to use against these itinerant contractors. They don't live here we do,"
If a resident is contacted or solicited by itinerant contractors for any services, try to get license plate information of any vehicles and descriptions of the individuals, if possible, and contact your nearest law enforcement agency as soon as possible.