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Department has suspect in swindler case

The Cottage Grove Police Department has a suspect in the case of an elderly couple who was swindled out of nearly $7,000, thanks to a tip from a retired Texas investigator.

As part of the National Association of Bunco Investigators, Dirk Moore, a 20-year investigator of transient crimes, now combs articles across the country using Google News and helps local police agencies identify criminals.

In this case, the Cottage Grove couple reported they paid a man who called himself "Joe Murphy" $6,896 to do repair work on their chimney and trim trees. He said he would return in 10 days to do the work, but never came back.

Details about the suspect are not available because he has not yet been charged.

Moore, who now trains law enforcement in transient crimes, said scam artists who commit crimes like this typically stay in a recreational vehicle park or motel for a week to two weeks, and then work within a 45-mile radius of the place where they're staying.

Because they travel and often use aliases, it can take two or three years to track suspects down once they're identified, he said, but that's not always the case.

"Sometimes these people are caught on a particular job that they're doing, they're caught immediately right there on the spot," he said. "Sometimes they might get stopped for speeding somewhere and be ID'ed as being wanted."

Even though Moore is retired, he said helping police catch these kinds of criminals is a labor of love.

"These people target the elderly most of the time when they pull these scams," he said. "I just cannot stand people that target the elderly."

Tips to avoid a home repair scam

- A legitimate contractor does not need to approach prospective customers through door-to-door contacts. If you need work done, seek out contractors through the yellow pages in the telephone directory or through referrals.

- Do not pay any money up front. A common ploy for the fly-by-night contractor is to collect half or all of the money up front and vanish without doing any work.

- Shy away from contractors driving unmarked vehicles with out-of-state registrations.

- Say no if they say: "We have been working the area and have some left-over materials." "Don't tell anyone that I'm giving you this job for such a low price." "This job will be a 'demonstration' to show others the quality of my work." "I only accept cash." "This offer is only good today and now."

Source: Dirk Moore, 20-year transient crime investigator

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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