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Law Enforcement Warns Public of 'Gypsy' Scams

Each spring a group of "gypsies and travelers" comes to the area offering home improvement services, deputies say.

Springtime in the Tampa Bay area is known for two things: allergies and gypsies.

That's the word from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

Every spring, the Tampa area sees an increase in gypsy and traveler scams, according sheriff's office officials.

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, according to a media release issued by the sheriff's office.

"They know this is a very large popular part of the country where seniors come to from up north," said Det. Larry McKinnon, sheriff's office spokesman. "They prey on seniors."

Normally their scams involve offering home improvement work including roofing and driveway repaving. They request payment in cash or check up front. They either perform shoddy work or never return to finish the job, McKinnon said.

"People think 'Oh, I'm getting a great deal,'" McKinnon said. "But the workers never come back."

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The "gypsy or travelers" have also been known to also walk into homes with unlocked doors or garages and take items from inside, the media release said.

Law enforcement encourages people to keep their doors locked and garage doors closed. Homeowners should be suspicious of anyone who knocks on their doors with an offer that sounds "too good to be true." Homeowners should at least check references and go through the Better Business Bureau to check out the company, officials say.

Leary homeowners can also call the sheriff's office non-emergency line if they suspect someone is running a scam. If you see gypsies or travelers in your neighborhood, homeowners are encouraged to get their descriptions and the description of their vehicles.

"And we'll come out and check them out for you," McKinnon said.

"We're going to do everything we can to minimize this best as possible," he added. "It's our duty to put the warnings out."

Had a shady person offered home improvement services? Call the sheriff office's non-emergency line at 813-247-8200.

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