D.C. police have again invoked "Operation Brer Rabbit" in an attempt to protect Washington residents from itinerant home improvement workers who allegedly travel from state to state along the East Coast seeking to defraud homeowners.

Police officials in the consumer fraud unit said the itinerant handymen tend to concentrate on elderly homeowners. Last year, they largely avoided the District, apparently because of arrests by police here the previous two years. They still operate in the Washington area, however, the officials said.

The purpose of "Operation Brer Rabbit" is to pass the word from one police department to another about the route being followed by the itinerant workers, the officials said.

For example, last year, D.C. police learned that a group of the itinerants were coming to the District from North Carolina, police said. The workers were visited by detectives within 48 hours after they arrived and were told they would be watched, officials added, and they quickly left.

Police officers said the workers offer to perform a roofing job, for example, but that it actually amounts to painting the roof shingles with aluminum paint. In turn, the shingles dry out along with the paint and then blow away, officials said.

The workers also offer to put new surfaces on driveways and carry out termite inspection, police said.

According to consumer fraud officers, the workers drive around neighborhoods and look for a house in need of repair. If an older person answers the door, the offer to perform the repairs for half-price, the officers continued.

To illustrate the workers' attempts to prey on elder people, the officers recounted in incident they investigated in recent years when two houses on the same block needed roof work around the chimneys.

The workers charged $500 to an elderly couple that owned one of the houses. For the exact same amount of work on a house owned by a younger man, the workers charged $40, the officers said.

Persons who believe they have information concerning questionable work performed by home improvemen workers may contact Det. Earl Gould or other officers of the consumer fraud unit, police said.

The workers reportedly move northward from Florida each spring, stopping in several states on their trip along the East Coast.