Eighty-six-year-old Holly Oak resident Robert Bennett has this advice for his fellow senior citizens: "Make sure you know who you're dealing with."
He should know, because he was bilked out of a lot of money last March by transient con men who offered to paint the foundation of his home -- cheaply.
By the time the men were done with the ruse, Bennett allegedly owed them $11,565 for work either partly completed or never requested.
The onset of warm weather brings with it the return of traveling bands of thieves who prey on seniors.
New Castle County police Senior Cpl. Trinidad Navarro said the home-repair scam is repeatedly used on "low-risk targets," namely senior citizens.
"The suspects will approach the homeowner with an unbelievable price for repair work and sometimes fabricate a story about the appearance of the home and its need for repairs," Navarro said.
"They use the line, 'Your roof looks like it is leaking,' or, 'Your driveway looks like it needs to be resurfaced,' or, 'Your house needs painting,' " Navarro said.
Or the con men may say that they have materials left over from another job they just completed in the neighborhood and can do the job at cost.
If they're hired to do the job, it's usually substandard or incomplete. And once they have the money, they skip town, Navarro said.
"A young fellow came up and said they were looking for work," Bennett said of his March 12, 2009, experience. "He said he could paint the foundation, steps and garage door for $500. The next thing I know, they're up on the roof and discovered a hole. Said the squirrels must have made it. I thought they were from the neighborhood. There are a lot of guys out of work."
Bennett said he agreed only to the paint job, nothing else.
According to court records, Bennett paid them $500 for the paint job.
The next day, they returned with a contract for $4,625 for the roof work, and on April 23 they asked for two more checks totaling $6,440. At that point, he said, his daughter threw the men out and canceled the two checks.