Recently the Wenham Police Department have seen an increase in “travelers” or what is also known as “gypsy” activity in the area, according to Sgt. Jonathan Gray.
To law enforcement agencies, the word "gypsy" refers to people who travel in small groups across the country perpetrating crimes of theft, burglary, and fraud. Recently, the Essex County area and other communities have been victims of what have become known as "gypsy scams." Gypsy scams are incidents that occur in daylight hours, in which a suspect will - literally - walk right into someone’s home for the purpose of stealing jewelry or money.
Very often, the homeowner is either in or near the home. If these individuals are caught, they give some kind of excuse as to why they are in the home or on the property. So far, these individuals have not been violent and usually run from the residence as soon as they are discovered, Gray said.
The best way to keep these people from victimizing you is to simply keep your home locked, even when you are working in the yard. Remember, anytime you are outside your home, you cannot possibly see every door that a would-be thief might enter. During this same time of year, traveling home improvement workers, often called “Travelers or Irish Travelers,” invade communities in the area preying upon homeowners, often the elderly, going door to door offering to pave or seal driveways at a very cheap price.
The travelers will want payment up front and prefer cash but will often times accept a check. The travelers will tell the homeowners they have patch left over from a previous job. Most homeowners who hire the traveling workers experience shoddy work with sub-standard materials. Then the victim cannot locate the workers for a refund or to repair the job. When victims try to stop payment on the check, it already has been cashed, and the name on the check usually is fictitious or belongs to an uninvolved third party. Homeowners should be suspicious of anyone who knocks on their door with offers that sound “too good to be true.”
Here are some very common scams Wenham police are experiencing:
1. Individuals will target the elderly, and will show up at the home dressed as a member of the water department, or electrical department (hard hat, traffic vest, walkie-talkie etc.). There will usually be at least two people. One person will lead the home owner to the basement to “check the water meter,” while the other “Water Department worker” will stay in the kitchen and “keep an eye on the faucet.” While the homeowner is in the basement being distracted, the other people will go through the house and steal any valuables they may find. These people work very fast and can be in and out of your house in minutes.
2. A “hot top crew” shows up at a home, telling the home owner (usually elderly) they have “extra” sealant, or hot top, and offer to seal the driveway at a very low price. The home owner agrees, and these people look as if they are sealing the driveway, however, they are only spraying cheap, hazardous chemicals on the driveway. When the job is done, the crew tells the homeowner that they ran into a problem, and demand more money, sometimes three or four times the original price quoted. The driveway may look good for a day or two, but as soon as it rains, these chemicals wash into the grass, killing grass, shrubs etc, leaving a mess of the victim's driveway. By this time, these people are long gone.
3. A homeowner receives a telephone call from an individual claiming to be from a chimney service offering to inspect their chimney, as this time of year there is a danger of carbon monoxide poisoning. These people use high pressure sales tactics, and are very charming over the phone. The homeowner agrees to have their chimney inspected. These inspections are usually reasonably priced, or sometimes free. The “chimney service” shows up the next day, and appear to inspect the victims chimney, and tell the victim that their chimney needs to be refurbished immediately, as the homeowner is in danger of carbon monoxide poisoning. This will cost anywhere from $2,000-$3,000. These individuals do very shoddy work, sometimes inserting dryer vent tube into a chimney, often times causing large amounts of damage to the chimney. When they finish, they require a check, and by the time the homeowner finds out his chimney is destroyed, the check is cashed, and the perpetrators are long gone.
Protect yourself - chimney companies will never “cold call” you at your home. If you receive a call like this, hang up or refuse to schedule an appointment. If you have problems with your chimney, call a legitimate chimney company. If you need help locating one, call Wenham Town Hall and contact the building inspector's office, or the Wenham Fire Department, who will refer you to a legitimate company.
Never have work done on your home without a contract, showing the contractor's license issued from the state, and contact your local building inspector to see if this person is legitimate. If someone comes to your house claiming to be from the water department or electrical department, tell them to wait outside while you verify their identity with the water department or electrical company via telephone. If they are legit, they will wait. If they are not, they run. As always, at anytime, you can call the Wenham Police Department for assistance at 978-468-4000.
Submitted by the Wenham Police Department.