When Lilburn Police Chief Bruce Hedley worked for the Atlanta Police Department in his twenties, he was called by a bank manager who was concerned about one of her customers, Ms.” Jones.” The elderly woman had written a check for $6,500 and two men were at the bank trying to cash it. When the bank manager called to verify that it was okay to cash the check, Ms. Jones sounded tentative in her assurance that it was what she wanted. Then-Patrolman Hedley visited the woman, but of course, by then the suspects had left with her money. As he explored the information further, he learned the following:
During the Potato Famine of 1845-1847, people from Ireland moved to other locations in Europe and America so they could survive. With potatoes rotting in the fields, there was nothing for them to eat in their native country, so they fled to London, Scotland, Canada and ultimately the USA. These were rural farmers, many of whom became upstanding citizens, making contributions to their communities.
There were a few who did not know a trade to earn a living. To stay alive, a handful of the Burkes, Daleys, Gallaghers, Gormans, Jennings, McDonalds, McNalleys, Reillys, Toogoods, Carols and Sherlocks resorted to scamming people; these are names associated with the Irish Travelers. Unfortunately, a few bad apples ruin the whole basket, as is the case with Irish Travelers. Many people of Irish descent do an excellent job, respect the elderly and take care of their families, while a few are known for their shoddy workmanship and conning ways. Several generations later, the descendants of the “rotten apples” are practicing similar techniques all over the US. They tend to target single, elderly women whom they believe vulnerable to scams, but have also been known to take a middle aged man for a few thousand.
The technique: The visit generally begins with a knock on the front door by an older gentleman who says he has been doing work in the area and has extra supplies. For a minimal charge of $49, his crew will…
…pave the driveway
…paint the house
…repair the fence
…cut down a tree
…replace the roof
…fertilize the lawn
– any diversion to get the victim out of the house so other members of the crew can go in and take valuables. They may also pose as a bank examiner or travel agent. They can be very charming and very convincing.
Another method: The person knocking on the door may pretend to know Ms. Jones or a family member and is looking for work to get him through a rough patch. Once a job is agreed upon, the older man, (let’s call him Patrick), sits chatting with the victim in the kitchen, spinning stories and keeping the victim from watching the progress of the job. The job usually takes about two hours and looks very well done, but may fall apart (fence or roofing) or wash off (paint or blacktop) in a few weeks.
When the workers return to say the job is done, Patrick informs the victim that he said “$49 a square foot – not $49 for the job.” Now the cost of the job is closer to $12,000 or higher. Patrick’s demeanor changes so that he is now pushing into Ms. Jones’ space with his two burly workmen right behind him, pressuring her to make a decision quickly, threatening to call the police because “the materials used were stolen.” After some negotiation, and because he is “such a nice guy,” he may reduce the cost to $8,000 or $6,500; once the check is written, Patrick sends the workmen to the bank to cash the check while he remains with the victim. His presence keeps the victim from stopping payment on the check or saying anything when the bank calls to verify that she intends to give her life savings to two unknown men.
Scams by Irish Travelers, also known as gypsies or tinkers, decrease some during the winter while they stay near North Augusta in Murphy Village, South Carolina or outside Fort Worth, Texas. Some families live in mansions while other families are in trailers behind or between the big houses. There are at least 7,000 members of the Irish families who practice these scams over the US, but the Carolina-based group also works through Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. The Better Business Bureau has given them an “F” rating; they were reported on Dateline in 2006, and yet they continue to practice their scams. They look like anyone from Europe or England and may not speak with an accent, or they may speak to each other in a language similar to Gaelic. There is usually
o an unsolicited knock on the door offering to do some job around the house;
o an unmarked truck or van with out-of-state tags;
o workers with no business identification, local address or telephone number;
o asking upfront for payment or fees, or accepting cash only;
o no contracts to sign or estimates given;
o an older man who does the talking while the younger men work the job.
Scamming has been practiced for many generations with skills and tactics passed down through the years. Members of the Irish Travelers have been arrested, served their time and then returned to their people to start scamming again.
Two such scams were reported to police in early January in Peachtree Corners, one involving a white male of average build, six feet tall, with blue eyes and identifying himself as Michael Thompson. He identified himself as a former AJC paper delivery person. The second incident involve a Hispanic male who claimed he came to work on the fence based on an agreement from several days before.
Anyone selling door to door in Gwinnett County or in Lilburn is required to wear a solicitor’s badge-with-photo. If someone appears at your door asking to work for pay, ask to see their city- or county-issued license (with a picture on the badge), and if they don’t have one, call the Gwinnett Police –770-513-5100 (or 911 if there is suspicious or malicious activity), or Lilburn Police 770-921-2211.