As spring weather heats up, the time is ripe for outdoor projects, spring vacations and wrapping up those straggling tax returns. Unfortunately, this time of year also means a spike in fly by night contractors, promises of cheap trips and identity thefts, said Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks.
"There are several areas of crime that start coming up around this time of year," said Mincks.
As tax season winds down, one thing that people need to be aware of is identity scams.
"Don't give out your Social Security number or identifying information to anybody that calls you," said Mincks.
If someone does call, Mincks advised getting the person's contact information and offering to call them back.
"Find the number on the Internet and see if it's a legitimate company," he said.
Tips for avoiding scams
Don't give out identifying information, such as Social Security and account numbers, to those who solicit it.
Ask to see paperwork, including proof of insurance and licensure.
Ask for references or check with authorities and the Better Business Bureau to assure a company's legitimacy.
Don't give money up front.
Sign a contract and demand receipts.
Be wary of those going door to door offering to do work.
If it seems too good to be true, it often is.
Source: Times research.
Home renovation scammers are also abundant around this time of year, said Washington County Assistant Prosecutor Kevin Rings.
"One red flag would be that they demand a significant portion of money up front, especially if they don't have a lot of supplies to buy," he said.
In 31 years of business, Greg Black, owner of Black's Tree Service, has never asked anyone to pay up front.
"We probably five times a month hear people say 'I wish I would have called you guys first.' This guy I already paid said he had an emergency and had to leave and now I have a tree half cut up. It happens all the time," said Black.
The Washington County Prosecutor's Office recently prosecuted a man who was convicted of taking nearly $100,000 for construction projects he never completed, recalled Rings.
That man, 39-year-old Douglas Snider, was sentenced in January to 18 months in prison for the 11 counts of theft that resulted from his actions.
Some scammers come from out of town, often targeting elderly individuals, and then disappear quickly once the money is in hand, said Rings.
That was the case with blacktop paving scam artists from Virginia who took a lot of area residents' money on the promise of paving their driveways with leftover blacktop "they just had to get rid off" before leaving town, he said.
"They put just a real thin sealant down and took the money and run," said Rings.
To be safe, it is always best to stick with local contractors and check their credentials, said Mincks.
A legitimate contractor should be able to show proof of registration with the Washington County Building Department, said R.J. Wynn, owner of Wynn/Dent Construction.
"That means you're a registered contractor in the area, which also proves you have proof of insurance and proof of workman's comp," said Wynn.
Another sign that an offer is not legitimate is that it simply seems too good to be true, he said.
"If they get more than one estimate and one price seems extremely low, it's probably because the work won't be as good or won't get done," said Wynn.
Wynn signs contracts with his customers. He also recommends that people withhold the final payment until the work has been finished.
"That way they have a fair chance to debate if the work was not done in the manner they wanted," he said.
An unwillingness to provide paperwork, such as contracts and receipts is another red flag, as are those who travel from home to home.
"Door to door salesmen of any kind are always dangerous," said Black. "If someone came door to door saying 'Hey I'm doing open heart surgeries today,' you'd laugh them away. But these contractors always have some sad story of why they need the work now."
People should ask for references, check a company's record with the Better Business Bureau or even contact the Washington County Sheriff's Office to check on a company's record, said Mincks.
Additionally, people should be wary of letting these contacters into their homes because it creates an opportunity for theft, he added.
Spring is also a popular time for vacationing scams, said Mincks.
"A lot of college kids are going on spring break. They get an email saying, 'Send us X amount of money and you can reserve your spot for this great deal,'" said Mincks.
Again, checking the legitimacy of the offer with the Better Business Bureau or authorities can save a lot of money and headaches, he said.