By Tamas MondovicsCRIMEBEATscam alert

One of the most bizarre, but very real and increasing problems that affects Tampa Bay area residents each year is what local law enforcement officials have come to call “gypsy and traveler” activity.

Officials explained that to law enforcement agencies the word “gypsy” refers to people who travel in small groups across the country perpetrating crimes of theft, burglary and fraud.

“Gypsy scams are incidents that occur in daylight hours, in which a suspect will literally walk right into someone’s home for the purpose of stealing jewelry or money,” said Hillsborough County Sheriff Office (HCSO) Detective and Public Information Officer, Larry McKinnon. “Very often, the homeowner is either in or near the home.”

Due to the fact that gypsy scammers migrate to the area this time of year, McKinnon emphasized that the sheriff’s office wants to make sure the public is aware of their presence and their tactics.

According to deputies, when these individuals are caught, they give excuses as to why they are in the home or on the property, such as “they thought they knew someone who lived there.”

“The remedy is a simple, much-emphasized, but often disregarded task,” McKinnon said. “The best way to keep these individuals from victimizing you is to simply keep you doors locked and your garage door closed.

Residents need to remember that every time you are outside your home, you cannot possible see every door that a would-be thief might enter.”

The best way to avoid being a victim, homeowners should simply keep their doors locked and their garage door closed.

HCSO also wanted to alert residents of the presence of traveling home improvement workers this same time of year who are often called “Travelers or Irish Travelers.” Such individuals are said to invade communities preying on unsuspecting homeowners, especially the elderly.

“For example, going from door to door such scammers offer to pave or seal driveways at a very cheap price, and want payment up front and, prefer cash, but will often times take a check,” McKinnon said.

One way a scam may be pulled off by the “Travelers” is that they tell the home owners that they have a patch or some construction materials left over from a previous job.

Most homeowners who hire the traveling workers experience shoddy work with substandard materials. Unfortunately, the victim can’t locate the worker for a refund or to repair the job.

When victims try to stop payment on the check, it’s already been cashed and the name on the check is usually fictitious or belongs to an uninvolved third party.

“The sheriff’s office wants to caution homeowners to be suspicious of anyone who knocks on their doors with an offer that sounds too good to be true,” Mckinnon said. “Checking references and going through the Better Business Bureau to check out the company is always a good idea.”

But, according to law enforcement officials, the best way to avoid being a victim of such scams is to never pay in advance; always pay at the conclusion of the job, and remember that if the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Those who have information on any individuals who may be involved in construction or home repair fraud, can contact the HCSO Construction Fraud Unit at 247-8622.

For more information about HCSO, visit www.hcso.tampa.fl.us.