The Stillwater Police Department would like to warn citizens that this is the time of year when home improvement scams become more prevalent in the community.

In the most recent incident in Stillwater, an elderly man was approached by a group of Hispanic males at his home, who attempted to defraud him out of money for roof repairs.

According to SPD, elderly homeowners are the most frequent targets of handymen who appear unannounced, often with a vague story about doing other work in the neighborhood. They offer to perform such chores as gutter repair, driveway paving, roof repair or landscaping.

The handyman will often ask for advance payment for supplies, then leave, supposedly headed for the hardware store, never to return.

In other cases, a price is agreed upon but when the work is finished, the handyman presents a bill that is much higher than expected.

Intimidated by the handyman or confused by the explanation for the higher charges, the homeowner often pays the inflated bill. Later attempts to recover the overcharges are practically futile, since the handyman has long since disappeared.

Although elderly are often the victim of scam, Norman McNickle, chief of police, warns that it can happen to anyone.

“People should be very weary of unsolicited requests to make home improvements. Often they are scams which will leave the homeowner with less than desirable work, if any improvement at all and possibly out a lot of money.”

There’s no surefire way to avoid being a victim of home improvement scams and even the most well-intentioned contractor or handyman can run into problems that may run up the cost of a project, but here are a few tips to keep in mind:

• If you are not aware of a problem with your home, don’t trust a handyman who comes to your door. If they are insistent, ask them to leave and in the event they resist call the police.

• Ask neighbors and friends to recommend a good handyman or contractor. Don’t rely on leaflets stuffed in mailboxes or posted on bulletin boards.

• When interviewing a contractor, get a written list of work he or she has done in your area and then go examine those projects or contact the previous customers.

• Draw up a written contract, including the work to be performed, the time frame and the agreed-upon cost of supplies and labor. If the handyman doesn’t have a contract form, you can get one at your local library.

• Don’t let the contractor finance your project. This almost always results in unnecessary charges. If you need financing, contact a bank or credit union.

• Demand to see the contractor’s city or county business license and insurance certificate. Do not take no for an answer. Refuse to deal with anyone who will not provide this information.

• Always be certain you have the contractor’s complete name, business name and his or her street address. Don’t settle for a post office box.

As a homeowner the best defense against a scam is information.

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