Statewide Database Set To Combat Transient Home Repair Fraud

Attorney General Spitzer today announced a statewide initiative to aid local prosecutors and police agencies in their efforts to identify and stop transient scam artists posing as home contractors.

Spitzer's office has developed the statewide Transient Criminal Intelligence Database (TransCID) which will serve as a central source of information to aid in tracking reports and information on fraudulent home contractors and other itinerant scam artists.

"Vagabond scam artists have victimized our communities for far too long. They have preyed on our residents one neighborhood at a time and then quickly moved on, taking with them our citizens money along with their hopes and dreams," Spitzer said. "It is time that state and local law enforcement unite their efforts to respond more swiftly to these crimes and finally catch these thieves before they move on to other victims."

These traveling "work crews" search neighborhoods for vulnerable victims, often elderly individuals who are living alone, and then steal money be engaging in bogus home repair work and sometimes burglarize their homes. The bogus home contractors strike swiftly, obtaining as much money or property as possible and then move on to another community before law enforcement officials can respond.

TransCID will provide a database to gather information on these criminals for all law enforcement agencies across the state that encounter them either through routine patrol, surveillance, investigation or by consumer complaint. It will aid in the identification of perpetrators by developing a historical perspective, quickly documenting any continuous pattern of illegal activity and by piecing together bits of information from different victims in separate communities.

State Police Superintendent James W. McMahon: "It is disheartening to read police reports of families victimized by transient contractors. By their very nature, these contractors move on to other communities or police jurisdictions before being discovered. This new database will play a significant role in helping law enforcement track such transient activities. The State Police is looking forward to participating in this cooperative and worthwhile effort."

Spitzer's Investigations Bureau developed this database to supplement current law enforcement efforts to apprehend the criminals, to provide a more accurate measure of the scope of the problem in terms of victimization and dollar loss, and to provide an efficient manner in which to warn neighboring communities to the potential threat before more consumers are victimized.

Just weeks ago, a transient group of professional scam artists were indicted by a Broome County grand jury for burglary and criminal possession of stolen property. The indictment alleged that these five Philadelphia men targeted the elderly by portraying themselves as water department officials. Thanks to the quick thinking of police in both Johnson City and Vestal, where the crimes had been reported, law enforcement officials were able to join forces and apprehend the perpetrators before they left town to victimize another community.

"The writing is on the wall - a coordinated effort is imperative to effectively tracking and catching these scam artists," Spitzer said.

HOME IMPROVEMENT TIPS FOR CONSUMERS:
  • Determine exactly what work you want done. Make sure the project is explicitly described in your contract, including materials and labor specifics and dates for estimated start and completion.
  • Get job estimates which includes specific information about the materials and services to be provided for the job.
  • Get references. Check with the contractor's prior customers, banks and suppliers. Contact your local Better Business Bureau to scrutinize the company's history.
  • If any guarantees or warranties are promised, get them in writing in the contract.
  • Do not pay unreasonable advance sums. Instead, negotiate a contract payment schedule tied to the completion of specific stages of the job.

If you have a compliant regarding a home improvement contractor, contact the Attorney General's office at (800) 771-7755 or visit his web site at www.ag.ny.gov.


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