The fixer-up Scammers

The Los Angeles Police Fraud Detectives warn each Spring that several gangs of scam artists sweep into Southern California and the entire West Coast to rip off homeowners and small businesses.

Some of the groups are called Gypsies, others are called the Irish Travelers and then there are the backwoods boys of Oklahoma and Arkansas. Let’s make it clear right now that not all Gypsies, people form Oklahoma and Arkansas, and Irish guys like me are not crooks. These are just terms that the cops use. Only the crooks are referred to as crooks in this report.

These groups target homeowners and small businesses with every type of scam you can think of and some you cannot. LAPD Fraud Detectives say one of the groups have already hit town (February 2002) and are posing as utility company inspectors to get access to your home. They wear shirts like the Gas Co. employees’ wear. Two of them come to your door, and say there is a dangerous gas leak, or electrical problem and one asks you to show him the gas or electric meter outside your house. The other one says he needs to check your gas stove at the same time inside your kitchen. The idea is to get into your house to rip off your valuables. Never let them in unless you know for sure they are from the utility company. Ask for identification, look for a marked truck that does not have out of state plates on it. If they really press you to go into your house without you, use the WHITE LIE, tell them your brother, father or sister is a police officer and works the night shift and is sleeping and he does not permit anyone in the house while he is sleeping. These scammers don’t want to mess with cops. They will be on their way.

The so-called Irish Travelers are out of Alabama and they have fixer-up types scams. You can normally spot them by their brand new expensive trucks and out of state license plates. Their pitch is that they are in the neighborhood doing a job at the Jones or Martinez’s home and they finished early and have some extra supplies and could fix your driveway for a very low price. In the driveway scam they pour old motor oil on the asphalt and it looks great at first but then you realize that it never dries. You have sticky oil on your driveway forever.

Or they carry an assortment of roofing shingles and pick out the one that matches your roof and then tell you the shingles came off your roof in the last wind storm and they can replace them for just $150 and if you leave the shingles off your roof it will leak. They simply go up on your roof where you cannot see them and do nothing for a while and then come down to collect their money. They have dozens of contractor scams. They offer to paint your garage for you for $150 and you buy the paint.

Sounds like a good deal. You give them $50 for the paint and they ask if their kids can wait at your house until they come back from the paint store. Sounds honest, they are leaving the kids while they go get the paint. So you give them the $50 or $75 dollars and they drive off. The next thing you know the kids have walked around the block and are gone. Everyone is gone and so is your money.

Then there is the tree trimming scam. They show up and say your tree is hitting the power lines and the utility company will be around to charge you and standard fee of $250 to trim your tree. However, it’s your lucky day, because they will trim the tree for just $100. So they mess with the tree for some time and then stack the limbs in a neat pile and leave with your $100 dollars. Well, the problem is they never cut the limbs off your tree; they just stacked some limbs they brought with them in front of your house. You just paid them $100 bucks to put some limbs in front of your house. By the time you realize what happen they are long gone.

Here is how to fight back. Ask to see their state contractors license. They will have some story that they work with their brother under his license or Sam is just down the street finishing up the Jones’ home and he has the license with him. Use the “Cop White Lie” again and tell them your brother, dad, or sister is a fraud detective and he will want to look at the license and ask them to wait. They will be gone in a flash.

They always dress down, have a cheap price for the job, but look at their trucks; they are new and have out of state plates, normally Texas, Alabama, or Oklahoma. Never let their kids in your home to use the bathroom. The kids are trained to go directly to your master bedroom and take everything of value. They have large pockets sewed into their pants.

They also scam businesses and in my case the tried to scam a restaurant I owned in Houston, Texas. One evening a large family group came to my restaurant. There was Mom and Pop, and about 10 kids. They drove up in a brand new Ford crew cab truck with Alabama plates. It seemed a little strange that the kids carried satchels into a restaurant for dinner. They all ordered major meals as if they had not eaten for a week. All the kids went to the bathroom with their satchels in hand and always took the long way to the bathroom. What we did not realize was that the kids were taking everything that was not nailed down. They picked us clean and filled the satchels full.

After they finished their dinner the Mom and Pop offered to pay for their meals but refused to pay for the meals of the 10 kids. The parents bill was rather small compared to all the food the kids ate. The adults refused to pay for the kid’s meals and told my cashier to collect it from the kids. Of course the kids had no money, just all the stuff they had stolen out of the restaurant. I was called, and I argued with the parents. They refused to pay and walked out saying they had paid for their meal and the kids had to pay on their own. So I said fine, the kids stay to work off the costs and I locked the door. The parents threaten to call the police. I said fine call them, they will turn the kids over to the Juvenile Department. We had what they called a Gipsy stand off. The parents drove away.

The kids were starting to panic and I did not know how long I could continue my bluff about turning the kids over to the cops. One of the older boys started to fight me so he could get out the door. I let him out, but the little kids were still in the restaurant. Then Mom and pop in their new Ford Crew cab truck returned. Pop came to the door and pealed off twenty-dollar bills to pay for the kids check. He had a wad of money they could choke a horse. We did not realize until later that the kids had stolen so much from the restaurant. I mean they took the toilet paper, they took stacks of paper cups, and they even took a picture off the wall.

It happened again about a year later in the Spring. We were hosting a dinner for some fire fighters and their chief at my Mexican restaurant EL POPO. It was late, about 8 pm and we were all eating, when the doors of the restaurant swung open and about six kids came running in. They had their satchels and they started ripping off everything they could get in the restaurant. The fire fighters looked at me and said what’s going on? I said Chief it’s a Gypsy raid. He ordered his men to catch each kid. They did and we took our property back. Then a large fire fighter came out of the bathroom with a kid in each hand. He shook my property out of their pockets and took them to the door. Outside was Mom and Pop waiting in their new white large Ford Truck to pickup the little bandits. Apparently I was on their list as an “easy Touch.”

The parents always use the kids for the raids because they know the police do not want to take in eight to 10 kids. And if they do take the kids in, because of their ages they are just turned over to their waiting parents. Disclaimer: All Gypsies do not act this way. I interviewed the Chief of the Gypsies at the Houston Medical Center and he assured me I had just run into a bad group of Gypsies.