Unlicensed con men known as “travelers” periodically prey on unsuspecting homeowners in need of roofing, painting and asphalt paving work.
According to www.contractorfraud.net, the elderly are often a prime target of these “travelers.” However, the elderly are not the only ones who get scammed, but they are often the ones who get the scam job.
Often times, con men just show up at the victim’s house and offer a great deal, telling the property owner that they “just happened to be in the neighborhood and have some extra material left over in their truck.”
The “travelers” then will use defective materials and usually change the size and price of the job. Property owners who are approached at their home by such individuals are urged not to agree to have the roofing, painting or asphalt job done.
“Travelers” will use a very friendly initial approach with their victims in an attempt to gain their confidence. The “travelers” have been around for generations. These cons and scams, in many cases, have been passed down from fathers to sons and improved upon every year.
While Monroe County Sheriff Cecil Cantrell said he had not received any reports from anyone in the county about paving issues, Itawamba County Sheriff Chris Dickinson said one of the men who had been involved in paving scams in Monroe County had opened an office in Itawamba County and was going around house to house trying to pave driveways. Dickinson said he had run the man out of Itawamba County.
Around Jan. 18, Nelson and Bess Johnson of Amory thought they were getting their driveway paved with hot asphalt. What they actually got was a substance like crushed asphalt thanks to the paving company that formerly operated in Itawamba County.
“A guy came by, stopped and asked if we wanted asphalt put on our driveway,” said Nelson. “The young man said they had some leftover hot asphalt and would do our drive for $2,000. I told him to go ahead.”
According to Nelson, the paving crew brought a couple of trucks down there, and then they came back to the Johnsons and told them the father had sold the load to a bigger customer that could use it all.
The man told the Johnsons he would try again and have a better deal.
“They baited us the second time with a better deal, and they’d keep us in mind and let us know when it was available. That was all part of their bait. I told them okay, still thinking we were getting a blacktop for a good deal,” Nelson said.
The third time the man came by, Nelson was not at home.
“He told me what they had would be as hard as a blacktop road and even better. I got Nelson on the phone and said it was hot asphalt blacktop. The guy told me it was $3,000. I asked him three times if it was like road blacktop asphalt, and was assured it was. Nelson said to go ahead,” Bess said.
In the case of the Johnson’s driveway scam, the workers looked legitimate.
“The asphalt people had four or five expensive trucks. It was not cheap equipment. They are operating in big money. They canvassed the road, stopping everywhere there was a long or circular driveway,” Nelson said.
It took the crew about three hours to scrap and scoop up the grass and put the the materials down. The man who had originally talked to the Johnsons told Bess to make the check out to him. The $3,000 check cleared through Woodforest National Bank in The Woodlands, Texas, on Jan. 19.
“When I came home after work, I saw it was not asphalt. Bess and I looked at it and I was upset when I saw it was not regular asphalt,” Nelson said.
He called the people and told them he was disappointed it was not blacktop asphalt like they had told him. The man told Nelson it would be better than hot asphalt, but it just had to have some heat to make it set up.
“I called again a week or two later and expressed my disappointment and concern that this was not going to be what I was promised. I was assured again it was asphalt,” Nelson said.
The Johnsons contacted a lawyer, but since they didn’t have any information there wasn’t anything they could do.
“I started praying about what I should do and asked the Lord why did this happen to me. Then I began to look at a bigger purpose here. That’s when I asked the Lord what He would have me do,” Nelson said.
“We felt we were supposed to contact the newspaper and gather information. There’s no telling how many in the county who have been cheated,” Bess said.
The Johnsons contacted their supervisor and he came and looked at the work. He told them that the paving people had to have a Mississippi license to do the work.
“We decided we would speak up and be the voice for every person in Monroe County who got cheated and scammed in asphalt paving. Their usual spiel is ‘we have some leftover asphalt for a driveway.’ I think they would do a good job so they could get that person to recommend them and then they do their scam. I would like to see them charged for their criminal act,” Nelson said.
There have been others in the county who were scammed by the “travelers” in asphalt work, including Sid Thorn of the Splunge community.
“In early January of 2011, this man came up and asked me if I wanted our driveway paved. He said ‘we’ve got a deal. We did a job on Highway 278 and ordered too much,” said Thorn. “I asked him how much and he said $1500. I told him I’d do that.
“He must have had his trucks waiting down the road because he came back pretty quick and said, ‘How do you like that! Turned out we had a lot more left than we thought. I’ll give you a good job and deal.’”
Thorn said he asked for an estimate and the man said he didn’t have time. He’d have to measure and the trucks were waiting.
“He wouldn’t give me a price. He had told me the other price, but then charged me another amount. They lied to me. They poured the whole driveway and they told me how much it was afterwards,” Thorn said.
Thorn said the first sealer was supposed to be free and that they would come back and seal it, but they never did. About a year later, the same crew had to come to a neighbor of Thorn’s who told the man not to forget to go and seal Thorn’s driveway.
The work crew charged Thorn $735 for the seal, when it was supposed to be free.
“When I told the man who came back to seal it, he said the labor was free, not the sealer. If I paid $700, he would knock off the rest. The sealer was water based and had been diluted too much.
“In some spots of the drive, you can see the dirt. It’s cracking up all over and I’ve already had to patch it with some sealer. It was supposed to be two inches thick and 10 feet wide. In some places, it is not even nine feet wide. They have kept coming back wanting to seal it again. For a price, of course. I don’t want them anywhere near my property again,” Thorn said.
In the end, the Thorns ended up paying the people more than $10,000. Whatever price the pavers give at first is the only price a person has to pay. The “travelers” will try to intimidate and bully people into paying more, but they do not have to pay anything else.
Both the Nelsons’ and Thorns’ asphalt work were done in January. Most articles researched on asphalt work state that the work should not be done in the wintertime.
Regular legitimate asphalters, painters and roofers do not go door-to-door trying to find work, which is one of the first clues that something is amiss.
The general rule of thumb is “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
Anyone who suspects they have been a victim of this scam or any other, should contact the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General’s Office at 1-800-281-4418. Also report any suspicious activity to your local law enforcement agency.