The Prince George's County Consumer Protection Commission, which has been following a number of cases it believes involve home improvement fraud, announced last week that $3,000 has been returned to two homeowners as a result of the investigation.
Commission spokeswoman Jennifer Dean said the organization has been sending out consumer alerts since May warning homeowners, especially the elderly, that a number of men have been offering to repair driveways and sidewalks, but demanding large payments in advance.
One arrest resulted after police were alerted in August by the daughter of a Hyattsville resident that two men were working on her mother's driveway.
One of those two men was arrested on the scene by Cpl. Richard Donnelly of the Prince George's County police check and fraud unit. That man, Paul W. Mitchel, of 6919 Annapolis Rd., Landover, was arrested and charged with soliciting home improvement work without a license. He was released on $250 bond.
According to Donnelly, Mitchel and a partner allegedly spread a thin coating of concrete worth about $5 on the driveway, and had charged the woman $1,200. The money was returned two weeks ago in an out-of-court settlement.
Donnelly, who said he is currently investigating 12 similar reports of alleged homeowner fraud, said that in an unrelated case, a Virginia man has made a $1,800 out-of-court settlement with an elderly Prince George's resident who had paid for, but never received, new windows.
Dean said the Consumer Protection Commission has heard of 10 to 20 cases in recent months. The elderly, Dean said, are easy targets because "they are easy to intimidate." They also "feel very vulnerable and hesitate to complain," she maintains.
The commission has warned homeowners not to give into high-pressure tactics by contractors selling home repairs door to door. Homeowners should ask to see a state home improvement license in addition to a businsess tax license and a preprinted contract before paying any money to a contractor, the commission said.