While there is a big difference from a labor scam and contractors being far behind on work due to different circumstances, law enforcement still urges the public to do their research before committing to jobs.
The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office recently intervened in a couple of cases regarding home improvement projects that led to the contractor returning payment. After numerous attempts to contact the contractor, homeowners contacted law enforcement as a last resort.
“Check into the background of anyone you use who isn’t local. Always use local first. When you start using people in different states and jurisdictions, it makes it hard for law enforcement to track them down,” said Sheriff Kevin Crook.
MCSO Investigator Wayne Wilbanks recommends for people in need of work to check with the Better Business Bureau to verify legitimate contractors or the Mississippi Board of Contractors to check the validity of licenses. He added people should check references also.
Rainy conditions, the lack of materials and an influx of work requests this year are among factors posing several problems for contractors to catch up on work.
In January, sheriffs from Monroe, Lowndes and Lee counties held a joint press conference regarding the apprehension of a subject involved with a paving scam that stretched through a large swath of north Mississippi.
Wilbanks said the number of scams reported to the MCSO has decreased this year. However, more than 20 people have reported receiving letters regarding new accounts opened in their names, even though no deposits or withdrawals were made.
“It started about the same time stimulus checks came out. I feel like they were opening these accounts and once they got a bank account they could withdraw it from, they would transfer it there,” Wilbanks said, recommending people should monitor their credit history and notify banks if an account is set up in their name.
He added in these cases, scammers had access to personal information such as social security numbers.
The MCSO was also alerted of a letter a resident received last month supposedly from a Canadian bank explaining a $24.5 million next of kin inheritance. People should take caution of such letters.
“Basically, if it sounds too good to be true, it is,” Wilbanks said.
While Internal Revenue Service scams aren’t as frequent locally, law enforcement reminds the public they are possible.
“A lot of older people may get scared because they’ll say that there’s a warrant out for their arrest if they don’t send us this amount of money. The IRS is not going to tell you they have a warrant out for your arrest. They’re going to show up at your house. They’re not going to give you a warning,” Wilbanks said.
Crook said scammers are doing more research about localized areas in order to mention names of court clerks, judges and geographical areas to try to convince people to do what they want.
He recommends for elderly people, especially, to call a family member or tell someone when they receive calls or letters that seem suspicious.
Ray is the managing editor of the Monroe Journal.