Uncategorized Patrick Mead on 14 Mar 2007 11:48 am
As Spring arrives, so do the Travellers. Some have emailed me newspaper articles about them entering the area where they live. While some TV and newspaper outlets warn their customers about the scams, most people are completely in the dark; especially those who only watch national news, the elderly, or those who aren’t naturally suspicious and careful.
Some Travellers will wear shirts that look like gas company workers. They will say there is a dangerous gas leak, or electrical problem, and one of them asks to see your meter (usually located outside of your home). He will tell you that his partner needs to check your stove or an outlet at the same time. He might even have a machine of some sort to "measure the changes in output" as his partner fiddles with something inside the home. His patter is very convincing and most homeowners are fascinated — and a little frightened — at how this works. Of course, while his partner is inside he is robbing the homeowner blind. Sometimes others join him — children and women are frequently used for this. They are quick, quieter than most men, and are more likely to get away from the homeowner or get treated lightly by law enforcement should the worst occur.
Always ask for ID. Always call and get a physical description of the workers, their truck, and a specific list of what they are allowed to do or not allowed to do. Make that call to a number in your phone book, NOT on the card you are given as that is an answering service run by Travellers.
Some will offer to paint your house or garage for an agreed price. They ask for cash upfront for the paint and, by the way, could their kids stay at your house while they go to the hardware store. While the kids are there, they will steal what they can and then run away. Of course, their parents disappear with the cash.
There is the tree trimming scam, too. They tell you that a tree must be cut back because it is endangering a power line. You are about to be fined by the city — they say — and the city will charge you $250 to cut it back away from the line. You are lucky — they say — because they are going around to help people before the city starts sending out their own engineers. It will only cost you $100. After a lot of noise and ruckus, they drive off, leaving a pile of tree limbs as evidence of their work. Sadly, those are just the limbs they brought with them in their truck. They did no actual work and are now gone with your money.
Ask for a contractor’s license and they will say something like, "I’m working with my brother. He’s the contractor. I’m just helping him out. He’s down the street and it would take too long/be too hard to get his license and run it all the way back here. Besides, we’re just trying to do you a favor. If you don’t want to save $150, that’s okay with us."
As mentioned by a commenter on a recent blog, one of their favorite scams is to sell equipment for inflated prices. The names change, but the most frequent name used is the Rebel Tool and Equipment Company of South Carolina. They arrive at a work site, or similar, with a truck load of equipment and ask if you could help them. They were supposed to deliver this equipment to a person in (name any city) but when they got there the man who ordered it had died of a heart attack. Now the truck driver is in trouble, you’re told, because he has to pick up another load and can’t haul this brand new equipment back home first. You look at the equipment and it looks good. Invoices are shown to you that prove the equipment was to be sold for $14,595. (the equipment can be anything from motor lifts to band saws to cordless drills) Even if you can’t use the equipment, the price you will be offered will be so low you will be certain that you could sell it yourself at a profit. You are assured that you will have three days to cancel the purchase if you have second thoughts. Warranty papers will be given to you that show everything is covered for years. You write a check for $5150 for the whole lot. Your check is cashed within the hour and you now own some flimsy, poorly made material imported from Taiwan and Korea (although it is stamped "Made in the USA"). Everything on the truck cost the Traveller less than $2000. About the time you realize you’ve been scammed, the Traveller is selling another truckload in another State.
And letters of recommendation? They will show you some from police departments. If you read them carefully you might see that the letters were letters of thanks for small donations made to some benevolent fund, not testimonials concerning their work or products. By the way, that Rebel Tool company is real. It sells super cheap stuff and warranties it for 90-180 days (depending upon item) but you have to ship it back to them to get fixed. It is so heavy that shipping is a very expensive and difficult proposition so most people scrap it and consider themselves wiser now — and poorer — than they were before. There is no law against selling your stuff to Travellers and it is the Travellers who stamp it "Made in the USA" so nothing can be done against the company. They have broken no law.
Some Travellers dress as doctors complete with white coat and stethoscopes, going door to door in neighborhoods with large concentrations of elderly people. They represent themselves as working for Social Security. They are only there to give a brief examination to the person so that an increase in benefits can be approved. Who wouldn’t want a bigger benefit check??? As the examination is being done other Travellers are robbing the homeowner.
Sometimes officials actually do something. In 1997 a quick raid was launched on Murphy Village, the headquarters for the Southern Travellers on the border line between Georgia and South Carolina. Fourteen were arrested on charges of stamp fraud, tax fraud, tax evasion, and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Some were charged with allowing 14 year old girls to marry, which is against State law. Some were arrested for pulling their kids out of school (and for not providing evidence of homeschooling). Most went peacefully but one fought the handcuffs and yelled at the police the whole way in. Most Travellers will not resort to violence, but a subset of them has arisen in recent years who will in a heartbeat. More than one has been convicted of murder — but almost always of their own, not of outsiders.
By the way, outsiders are called "country folk" by the Travellers or gadjo (or similar term) by other gypsy-style groups. Gadjo means a settled person; someone who doesn’t travel. It is usually used as a pejorative against those who used to be of the traveling people but who have renounced the road and now live in homes.
Yes, my family has been called gadjo more than once.
Next time — fear, rape, fraud, and exposure at the happiest place on earth…