2015-06-19 / Community

Police warn of ‘transient sellers’

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — Following the arrest of two men last week for attempting to scam an elderly resident out of more than $5,000, Kennebunk police are warning locals to beware of so-called ‘transient sellers.’”

“We often see a spike in this type of activity this time of year and when these people hit they come all over. We’ve been hit in every area of town over the years,” Deputy Chief Daniel Jones said in a June 11 interview.

“But who knows what we’re not even hearing about, because the victim may be too embarrassed to come forward, or perhaps, because they don’t even realize they’ve been scammed. That’s what concerns me,” Jones said, explaining the department’s release, June 10, of advice to Kennebunk residents on how to avoid being a victim.

That advice was prompted by the June 9 arrest of two Biddeford men on charges of home repair fraud.

According to Jones, on June 8, Franklin Dee, 23, appeared unsolcited at the home of an 89-year-old resident of Western Avenue, offering to do a variety of jobs around the house. Because the victim gave Dee a check for nearly $5,000 while receiving no contract or other assurances in return, his family contacted police, who asked to be contacted if and when Dee returned.

They didn’t have to wait long. The victim called police the very next day when Dee showed up again, reportedly to collect additional funds.

“Usually, if they get any money the first time, they’ll go back again and again, because they’ll think, ‘Hey, I’ve got an easy mark here,’” Jones said.

Police arrived while Dee was still at the home and found he did not have a local permit. In Kennebunk, transient sellers who go door-to-door to sell products or services are required to have a peddler’s permit, issued by the town office at a cost of $50. The permit applies to unsolicited sales calls only, not to prearranged home visits. In addition to serving as a notice to the town of the peddler’s intent, qualifications and contact information, the 30-day permit requires that the peddler provide a written estimate to clients, and wait three days before starting any work, Jones said.

Dee, a resident of Graham Street in Biddeford,was summonsed on the secne for a transient seller registration violation and home repair fraud, both Class D misdomeaors, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine upon convicion. Dee has a September date at Biddeford District Court, Jones said.

With Dee on his return visit was Patrick Fecteau, 28, of Roberts Street in Biddeford. He was found to have an active warrant and was arrested for failure to appear in court on a previous, unrelated charge.

During his arrest, Fecteau was found to have heroin on his person. He was also charged with unlawful possession of a scheduled drug, a Class C crime that carries penalties of up to five years in jail and a $5,000 fine.

How to avoid being a victim

According to Jones, “transient sellers” may appear on a homeowner’s doorstep offering a variety of services. Common offerings include asphalt paving, driveway spray coating, roof repairs, tree removal and tree trimming.

“These individuals will target anyone. However, senior citizens are preyed upon at an alarming rate,” he said.

“Typically these scammers will appear at your home without notice or invitation,” Jones said. “They will point out something they say needs attention and may offer leftover materials from a nearby job at a reduced rate, or ask to inspect the home. The key thing to remember is you did not recognize a problem at your home and then solicit their assistance — they just showed up at your doorstep.

“Scammers will often use high-pressure tactics, insisting that the work needed is of an emergency nature or that their offer is only good ‘here and now.’” Jones said.

“Home repair scammers are always vague about estimates, amounts of materials and final costs,” said Jones. “They will sometimes insist on money up front and then disappear without doing any work. Or, at the end of a job, the homeowner will discover that far more materials were needed than what was originally expected. Many times they will insist on cash for payment or will want the homeowner to accompany them to the bank to cash a check.”

The best thing to do, if repairs are needed, is to consider using only local contractors, Jones said, suggesting homeowners check with family and friends for recommendations about reputable contractors, while hiring only contractors who advertise in the yellow pages, in local newspapers, or on the Internet.

“Legitimate contractors do not feel the need to go door-to-door to find prospective customers,” he said. “They also do not normally ask for money in advance of doing the work. They will evaluate the repairs needed and give you a detailed estimate prior to starting the job. They do not normally have materials left over from a previous job that they need to get rid of right away at a bargain price. A legitimate contractor will know of all licenses needed for any given job and will be willing to prove to you that those requirements have been met. Legitimate contractors usually have their business name on their vehicles and their contracts or receipts. They will not cover their license plates with a towel, rag or other covering in an attempt to conceal it.”

Anyone approached by a door-to-door peddler can verify the seller is properly permitted by calling Town Clerk Merton Brown at 985-2102, ext.1326.

If a homeowner fears having been victimized already by a transient seller, or has been approached by a possible scammer, the best thing to do is to contact the Kennebunk Police Department immediately by calling 985-6121.

“Don’t be embarrassed or feel ashamed, these people are experts at their ‘profession’ and anyone can be a victim,” Jones said.

Mugging for the mug shot

The image of Dee released by the Kennebunk Police Department has a certain “Home Alone” feel to it, with him holding his hands to his cheeks in mock surprise.

Jones explained that because Dee was only summonsed, and not actually arrested, no booking photo, commonly referred to as a “mug shot” was taken. However, police wanted to have an image of Dee on file, for future reference. “People who commit these kinds of comes rarely say, ‘Oh my God, I’ve made a terrible mistake. I’ll be sure to change my ways in the future.’ So, in the event he may return, we wanted to have a photo we can show to potential victims,” Jones said.

True to Jones’ assessment, Dee clearly did not take his summons very seriously when the officer on the scene attempted to snap his picture. The result is not the perfect photo, Jones acknowledged, but it should serve the intended purpose.

“There’s not much I can say about it,” Jones said. “It was what I would call ‘a moment in time.’”

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