POPLAR BLUFF, MO (KAIT) – Officials with the Poplar Bluff Police Department are warning residents to be on the lookout for what they call a "home improvement scam". Police Chief Danny Whiteley Monday said residents are falling victim to people who claim to do carpentry, construction and yard work, only to find the work didn't need to be done in the first place or the work was done poorly.
Jeff Rolland with the Poplar Bluff Police Department said one woman fell victim to such a crime in February. He said as the spring and summer months come closer, he expects the number of home repair crimes to climb. He said the primary target is the elderly.
"They don't want you to call someone else. They can take care of you. You can trust them," said Rolland. "They don't let you read everything. They flash papers in front of you. They just want you to sign them without actually going through it."
Rolland said in February, Opal Miller, 91, of Poplar Bluff fell victim to such a crime. She lost $7,200 in the incident.
"They want to believe in the goodness in people and unfortunately these kinds of people exploit that," said Rolland. "They get intimidated. They're being pressured. They're unsure and the feel like they're a burden on their families so a lot of times they won't pick that phone up and call a son, a daughter."
According to an incident report obtained by Region 8 News, Miller was contacted by two men February 12, 2011. She told police the men said her home needed some repair work to the roof and gutters.
"Two gentleman showed up at her doorstep unsolicited and wanted to do roof and gutter repair. They could do it, they could do it cheap and it wouldn't take long, and she's out $800 for just a few minutes worth of work," said Rolland.
"It's a good chunk of change. It took my bank account down quite a bit there all of a sudden," said Miller.
Miller didn't agree the price should be $800, but she paid it in cash. A few days later, two more men came to her home.
"She was actually re-contacted a short time later to do additional work, where they gained her trust. They got in, were able to steal some of her checks and try to forge those checks and cash them," said Rolland.
Miller said the two men wanted to rent a rivet gun to repair the work the previous two men had not finished, but they didn't have the money to rent the gun.
Miller said she then handed one of the men a check. When the check was cashed, the bank called Miller to make sure the transaction was correct. Miller, according to the incident report, said the check was from her. Miller said she did not look at the total amount the check was for.
Rolland said Aaron Brannon was charged with financial exploitation of the elderly in connection to Miller's situation.
"Whenever you have unsolicited repairs from people, they just show up at your door and say I noticed this or I noticed that, or we're in the neighborhood and we have extra material from a job we've already done, you should be very leery of that," said Rolland.
Below are some warning signs police say could help prevent you from becoming a victim.
- Contacts you first. (Comes to your home uninvited or contacts you by telephone.)
- Tells you that you need to make repairs immediately.
- Talks too fast (to confuse you) and pressures you to sign papers today.
- Tells you that they are doing work in your neighborhood and claims they have "extra materials" left from another job.
- Offers to use your home as a "display home" or offers a discounted price or "discounts" for referrals, but only if you buy today.
Rolland said residents should do their homework first before allowing individuals to work on your home.
"An easy clue is if you mention the police and they welcome it. If you feel like you're being pressured and it's not right and you say we need to contact local law enforcement, an honest contractor or legitimate business would be welcome to that," said Rolland.
Miller said she hopes the same thing doesn't happen to someone else.
"I thought my goodness, you should have known better. I should have looked at that check before he left here and I should have done a whole bunch of things but they were just as nice as they could be and I believed every word they were saying," said Miller.