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Sheriff's Office Warns of 'Gypsy' Scams

Each spring, a group of "gypsies and travelers" comes to the area offering home improvement services, deputies say.

Springtime in the Tampa Bay area is known for two things: allergies and gypsies.

That's the word from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

Every spring, the Tampa area sees an increase in gypsy and traveler scams, according sheriff's office officials.

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, according to a media release issued by the sheriff's office.

"They know this is a very large popular part of the country where seniors come to from up north," said Det. Larry McKinnon, sheriff's office spokesman. "They prey on seniors."

According to the Temple Terrace Police Department, Temple Terrace has not had any "gypsy scams" in the area in the past year.

But McKinnon said that doesn't mean Temple Terrace is immune.

"We've had them sporadic over all of Hillsborough County over the years," he said. "(There aren't) any neighborhoods that are immune. They're very nomadic and hit areas at random, so any neighborhood could be a potential target."

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Typically, "gypsy scams" involve offering home improvement work, including roofing and driveway repaving. Gypsies request payment in cash or check up front. They either perform shoddy work or never return to finish the job, McKinnon said.

"People think 'Oh, I'm getting a great deal,'" McKinnon said. "But the workers never come back."

Gypsies or travelers have also been known to also walk into homes with unlocked doors or garages and take items from inside, the media release said.

Law enforcement encourages people to keep their doors locked and garage doors closed. Homeowners should be suspicious of anyone who knocks on their doors with an offer that sounds "too good to be true." Homeowners should at least check references and go through the Better Business Bureau to check out the company, officials said.

Leary homeowners can also call the sheriff's office non-emergency line if they suspect someone is running a scam. If you see gypsies or travelers in your neighborhood, homeowners are encouraged to get their descriptions and the description of their vehicles.

"And we'll come out and check them out for you," McKinnon said.

"We're going to do everything we can to minimize this best as possible," he added. "It's our duty to put the warnings out."

Has a suspicious person offered you home improvement services? Call the sheriff office's non-emergency line at 813-247-8200.

Temple Terrace Patch Editor Ashley Reams contributed to this story.

NCPHIF February 14, 2013 at 05:56 PM
As a nonprofit, it is our mission to educate homeowners on how to avoid becoming victims of contractor scams. Before you begin a home repair or home improvement project, please visit PreventContractorFraud.org for FREE and valuable information on how to deal with contractors. Don't become a victim!! 

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