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The original item was published from 3/25/2009 4:45:43 PM to 4/16/2009 12:00:06 AM.

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Dubuque News

Posted on: March 24, 2009

[ARCHIVED] Police Dept. Warns of Seasonal Scams and Burglaries

The City of Dubuque Police Department stresses the importance of protecting yourself against scams and burglaries, particularly as the weather is getting warmer.

Home Repair Scams
Spring is prime time for home repairs, and that makes it prime time for home repair scams. Citizens can take action to avoid becoming victims of home repair scams.

Home repair scams often work like this: Scammers will stop at your door, give you a hard sell, and/or offer sensational, low prices. It might be for roofing, painting, tree trimming, yard work or landscaping, or asphalt sealing of your driveway. Many times they will insist that you pay in advance, but they then do little or no work and never return.

• Legitimate contractors rarely solicit door-to-door
• Never pay large sums in advance to contractors you don’t know
• Be skeptical of any contractor that contacts YOU.

The Dubuque Police Department offers these additional tips for homeowners when hiring a contractor.

• Beware of High Pressure Sales Tactics. This may be such things as “today only” discounts, offers to use your home as a “display home” for replacement siding or windows, and special “lifetime warranty” offers. Always get several written estimates before making large investments. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
• Check Out the Contractor. Always check out an unknown contractor before you sign a contract or pay any money. Contact the Attorney General’s Office or the Better Business Bureau to see if the contractor has had any complaints. The Attorney General’s Office can be contacted at (515)281-5926 or 888-777-4590 or accessed via the web at Iowa Better Business Bureau can be contacted at (515)243-8137 and is located on the web at You may also contact your local County Clerk of Court and ask how to check if a contractor has been sued by unsatisfied customers.
• Get It In Writing. Before any work begins, agree on a written contract that details the work to be done, responsibility for permits, costs, and other promises. Ask for a copy of the contractor’s liability insurance certificate. Put in the start and completion dates in writing, and the consequences if the contractor fails to meet them. If you sign a contract at your home, in most cases you have three (3) business days to cancel.
• Avoid Paying Large Sums in Advance if You Don’t Know the Contractor. If you have to make a partial advance payment for materials, make your check out to the supplier and the contractor. Insist on a “mechanics lien waiver” in case the contractor fails to pay others for materials and labor.

Scam Related Burglaries
In past years, spring has also been the time of year when we have seen increases in a specific burglary technique. In these burglaries a suspect will come to the door and claim to be a surveyor, employee involved in property tax assessment, or claim to be doing work on a neighbor’s property. The suspect will then talk the victim into the back yard to view the property lines, etc. An accomplice then enters the house and steals property while the owner is distracted. The original suspect will then claim he has to go to his vehicle or make some other excuse and have the victim wait outside for his return. The suspects then leave the area.

In past cases, there has been minimal information on suspect vehicles and it’s believed they are parked a distance from the target residence. Additionally, burglaries are committed to unoccupied residences and the same suspects are believed to be involved due to the proximity to the scam related burglaries. It’s believed the suspects may be looking to pull their scam, but then do a traditional burglary when they find the residence unoccupied.

Residents are encouraged to be alert for similar suspicious activity in their neighborhoods and take precautions.

• If a subject claims to be present for unsolicited services such as lawn or tree care, do not grant them access to your residence.
• Require credentials or other positive identification from someone claiming to be associated with formal property assessment. If there’s any doubt, call the subject’s company to verify his identity or contact local authorities.
• Make sure all valuables are out of site and secure at all times
• Call the Police Department to report suspicious activity or people

Seasonal Burglaries
Another burglary technique that we have seen in past years is directly tied in with changes in the weather. People begin to unlock and open their windows for fresh air. Many remain this way throughout the summer.

In a number of burglaries, window screens are cut or removed to access open or unlocked windows. The suspect(s) then either enter the residences through the window or simply reach in and grab items of value that are within reach.

In many of these cases it is believed that the residences have been targeted because of open windows and the fact that valuables are readily visible through the windows.

Residents are encouraged to be alert for similar suspicious activity in their neighborhoods and take precautions.

• Close and lock ground level windows that could be use to access the residence from outside
• Close curtains/blinds on ground level windows to prevent people from seeing inside your home and seeing potential targets for theft
• Make sure valuables are secured and out of sight in the home
• Lock all doors, including those that lead from the garage to the house
• Remove valuables from cars/campers/boats and lock the vehicles
• Install outdoor lighting, including motion detection lighting
• Ask trusted neighbors or family to watch your home when you are gone
• Call the Police Department to report suspicious activity or people

Senior citizens are often the targets of scams. Scammers have found seniors to be good targets as they believe seniors may have assets or valuables, may be isolated or live alone, may be trusting of others, may suffer from cognitive decline or mental illness, and may be hesitant to report crimes due to embarrassment or fear that reporting a crime might result in family and friends questioning their independent living. Citizens are encouraged to share this information with elderly family and friends and check in them regularly.

For more information, visit the Dubuque Police Department web page at or call 563-589-4410.

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