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State police warn to watch out for transient criminals

Published June 15. 2010 05:00PM

Pennsylvania State Police today issued an advisory regarding crimes frequently perpetrated by transient criminals against the public. The department noted that the crimes in many cases are directed at older Pennsylvania residents and frequently take place during the summer months.

Two of the more common schemes are:

* Home-repair scams: Victims typically are approached through door-to-door solicitation by one or more persons offering to seal a driveway, fix a roof, or do some other repairs at an unusually low price. Many times the individuals will say they are "working in the area" or had "extra materials left over." Often the individuals will offer a discount price for cash payment. When the job is finished, the final price frequently is much higher then the original estimate and the materials used typically are of an inferior quality.

* Diversion thefts/impostor frauds: In these crimes, individuals approach and distract a homeowner, luring them toward a particular room of the house by feigning illness, asking for a drink of water, saying they are looking for a lost pet, etc.

The individuals also may pose as repairmen from the local power company or water department in an effort to gain access to the victim's house or lure the victim out of the house. The individuals may present an identification badge, may be wearing what appears to be a work uniform, and may try to convince the victim that they need to test the water pressure, electricity, or determine where the property line falls. They will claim that company regulations do not allow them to be on the property or in the house unaccompanied. They also may claim to be from a tree-pruning service, driveway paving service or fence installation company.

The purpose is to distract the victim while unseen accomplices enter the residence and steal valuables and cash. In some instances, the suspects communicate with hand-held radios or cellular telephones while committing these offenses.

Prevention Tips:

* Always lock your front and back doors when doing yard work, going to the street to get mail, or doing any other errand that keeps you away from your home.

* Be careful about leaving anyone you don't know into your home. Don't allow strangers inside your home, even if they appear to be in distress or with a young child.

* Check with your utility company by telephone if a person claiming to be an employee wants to enter your home or wants you to come outside with him or her. If you don't see any identification, ask for it. But keep in mind that these criminals have become adept at making their own identification cards and each individual's identification should be verified with their respective company.

* Beware of unsolicited home repairmen. Never deal with any door-to-door contractors. If you cannot verify the name, address, or telephone number of the repairman, they may not be reputable. If you need the services of a home repairman, deal with local people recommended by friends or reputable building supply stores. Request local references. Check your phone directory, your municipality's building officials, or the Better Business Bureau to make sure the individuals are legitimate. Verify that the contractor is properly licensed, bonded, and insured. Under the state's Home Improvement Law, all contractors must be licensed in Pennsylvania and their paperwork must show the company's licensing number. That information can be checked at the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General website at or by calling 1-888-520-6680.

* Be suspicious of high-pressure sales tactics. Get written contracts describing explicit specifications of the work, the price, the responsibility for cleaning up, and the hourly rate for any added work. Never sign any contract or agreement without carefully checking it. Be sure you understand and agree with all the provisions.

* Be sure the work is completed to your satisfaction before making final payment. Require a guarantee on the work and pay by check so you can stop payment if necessary.

* Write down the license plate number of any vehicles being operated by individuals acting suspiciously. Get a good physical description of any suspicious individual who comes to your door.

*When in doubt, call police immediately to report the incident. Don't be too embarrassed to report that you may have been victimized or swindled.

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