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With the arrival of Labor Day, traditionally the close of summer, state and local officials are cautioning area homeowners looking to get the last of their improvement projects done to be wary of traveling scam artists.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine sent out a warning Friday against people purporting to do home improvement work, such as roof repair, driveway paving and sealing, and tree trimming. Often the work done by those who approach homeowners offering immediate completion at an inexpensive rate can be shoddy, Mr. DeWine said in a statement.
"We've received at least one report of suspected travelers in Clinton County," the release stated. "With just a few weeks of summer left, we don't want to take any chances. We're warning all Ohioans to be skeptical of anyone who shows up unexpectedly offering home repairs."
Called "travelers," the people are known to make their way through Ohio and other northern states during the summer asking about work.
The usual ruse involves an oral estimate to do repairs for a low price that is raised when the workers say the job is completed, officials said, adding that the work is not completed properly or at all. Elderly homeowners are especially targeted, the attorney general's office said.
Dick Eppstein, president of the local Better Business Bureaus, said that his agency has had reports of such scams throughout the summer. He added that there are ways homeowners can protect themselves, namely by hiring local workers.
"If you hire somebody, call us and get their grade," he said. "The consumers really have to protect themselves. They have to hire good people. If the guy has good word of mouth, even if they go door to door, then that means something."
Mr. Eppstein said that in addition to doing research, homeowners can protect themselves by getting all aspects of the work -- including the types of materials used and the total cost -- put in writing and by not paying until the job is "satisfactorily complete."
Homeowners should also never let the workers in their homes and should be sure not to let anyone know where they keep money in the house, Mr. Eppstein said.
"Consumers are very nervous about hiring workers. They think they might not be able to afford the work," he said. "So when a guy comes and says he'll do something for cheap, it's tempting. You really cannot get quality work done unless you pay a fair price."
Mr. Eppstein said it is common throughout the summer to receive reports from consumers about being scammed. He suggests that people report these incidents to police.
And those who suspect that scammers are in their neighborhood, perhaps targeting elderly neighbors, should call 911, he said.
Jeff Lingo, chief of the criminal division of the Lucas County Prosecutor's Office, said that felony charges have been brought against these sorts of scammers in the past. He added that if the victim is elderly, the office will seek out higher-level charges.
"In cases where the police are able to identify the perpetrators and obtain sufficient evidence, the Lucas County Prosecutor's Office will vigorously prosecute those persons who take advantage of consumers in Lucas County," he said, adding, "They do this on a seasonal basis. We have succeeded in prosecuting these cases in the past and will continue to do so."
According to the attorney general's office, consumers can protect themselves by learning to recognize signs of a traveler, including unsolicited workers who come to their door uninvited and talk of problems in the home's roof or driveway.
Often they say they have material left over from a neighbor's job so will offer a very low price. The workers will accept only cash or check, start the work immediately, and often take only 30 minutes to an hour on the job.
Consumers who suspect a traveler scam should report it to local law enforcement and to the Ohio Attorney General's Office at www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov or by calling 1-800-282-0515.
The local Better Business Bureau can be contacted at 419-531-3116 or 1-800-743-4222 or by going online at www.toledo.bbb.org.
Contact Erica Blake at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-213-2134.