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Don't become scam victim

Dante Angelus sees their vehicles everywhere. Often they are unmarked; meaning they have no identification.

They're parked in hotel parking lots. They're driven throughout the communities, looking for customers - or victims. They're parked while the drivers go door-to-door, looking for work.They're gypsy pavers, who fast-talk individuals into getting work done. Often the work is never completed and if it is, it's likely to be sub-standard.Angelus is the owner of Motola's Paving Inc. of Lehighton. He personally has been in business since 2002, but acquired a business that has been operating for 40 years.Even he has been victimized. He said in Franklin Township, a gypsy paver claimed to be Motola's Paving and wanted to spray-seal a driveway.With the warm weather season upon us, the presence of gypsy pavers has increased. Angelus said a big difference between a gypsy paver and a legitimate contractor is that contractors have to be registered with the Pa. Attorney General's Office.He said all advertising, proposals, and invoicing must contain the contractor's PA registration number. The gypsy contractors not only are not registered, but often have no identification on their vehicles.While Angelus is familiar with the paving con artists, there are gypsies preying of people in other construction fields, too.Sometimes, the results of hiring the gypsies can be more catastrophic than merely sloppy or unfinished work. Just last year, the following incidents were reported locally:• Last July, an 89-year-old woman in Mahoning Township had $90,000 in cash stolen from her yesterday after what began as an apparent driveway sealing scam.According to police, a newer model GMC work van pulled up to the woman's house and a man and a woman, both believed to be in their 40s, began doing unsolicited work on the woman's driveway. He said they "pretended to seal coat the driveway," getting halfway done.This was done without the woman's permission, he said. Mertz said the operators told her that she didn't have to pay them immediately. The female then distracted the elderly woman, while the male went into the house and searched for valuables• Two weeks later, between $70,000 and $80,000 was stolen from a 92-year-old Lehighton woman by a flimflam artist. Lehighton Police said the incident happened when a male, posing as a repair man, entered the woman's home, said he would be doing needed repairs in the basement, then stole her savings.• In Franklin Township, a paving scam resulted in an elderly male being conned out of an unspecified amount of money.• Two years ago in Nesquehoning, a contractor knocked on the door of a couple and wanted to pave their driveway. The couple was undecided. When they returned home, they found their driveway was repaved and a man was there demanding payment.Angelus said, "Gypsy pavers have a reputation of going door-to-door looking for work. They claim to be 'in the area' and able to offer great deals but only if the job is done immediately. Or, claiming to have 'leftover' material from another project and can do your driveway right now."He said most municipalities have "no soliciting" ordinances which technically make the practice illegal.Also, he said no reputable company will go door-to-door soliciting work. Business is conducted by the consumer contacting a company looking for work."Asphalt is an expensive product," Angelus said. "If a company has more than several tons left over from a supposed other project, then they certainly don't know how to calculate their material needs. More likely, it is a complete lie just to get you to commit to doing a job immediately for an inflated price without having the option to shop for the contractor and price of your choosing."The local paver said he has seen gypsies from New Jersey, from the Allentown area, and from many other locations. Some have Lehighton telephone numbers, some have Jim Thorpe phone numbers, and some have New Jersey phone numbers. A local phone number doesn't mean they are a local or a legitimate firm.Some even carry business cards with a name and phone number, and a proclamation "Jesus saves," said Angelus. "It's all a big ploy."According to Angelus, the problem is more prevalent than most people realize."It has really gotten bad over the years," he said.He continued, "This happens pretty much every day and people are just taking their lumps. Some people don't even file a a complaint with the appropriate authorities. They simply take the beating and are left to feel powerless."He added, "This has to stop."

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Dante Angelus, owner of Motola's Paving in Lehighton, says most reputable contractors have their vehicles well marked. He said people should beware of gypsies who often have unmarked vehicles or out-of-town addresses.