by Dennis Dalman
In recent years, Sartell has been hit several times with wind-and-hail storms that caused citywide damages to homes and other buildings, and that is why city officials want to caution all residents to be wary of solicitations to fix damages.
Sartell Police Chief Jim Hughes and Sartell Housing Inspector Kyle Christensen are both advising people to be wary of door-to-door solicitations for storm-damage repairs.
This is not to say that door-to-door solicitors are all crooked. Some, in fact, are totally legitimate. But Christensen and Hughes recommend that, at the very least, people should check out all offers to make sure they are above board.
Neither Hughes nor Christensen knows how many storm-damage scams have been perpetrated against Sartell residents.
“I know there are some,” Christensen said. “There are some who complained to the city. Not a lot, but there could be more. We just don’t know. There’s no way to assess how many.”
One reason it’s difficult to get an idea of the extent of scams is because many who have been duped are too embarrassed to admit it, Christensen noted.
Many people, he added, have been raised to be trusting, especially elderly people who grew up in simpler times. Such people are especially vulnerable because of their trusting natures, and cons have become more and more adept at duping people, Christensen noted.
Christensen became the Sartell housing inspector in 2007, and that was the very year Sartell was hit with a vicious hail storm that caused — very likely — damages in excess of $1 million. Since then, just about every spring and summer in Sartell and the surrounding areas brought wind and/or hail storms that caused extensive damage to homes and yards. Earlier this spring, a windstorm uprooted trees and damaged some roofs. The most recent weather assault was Memorial Day two weeks ago when hail caused more damage.
Christensen said that, ironically, some of the homes that had just been finally repaired from previous storms were damaged yet again by the Memorial Day hail storm. That storm hit mainly residential areas north of Sartell City Hall.
Hughes wants everyone in Sartell to know door-to-door solicitors are required to be registered with the police department. However, that does not mean background checks were done on the registered solicitors. All sales people must have with them registration papers when they are soliciting.
Christensen wants all residents to understand building permits are required for all re-roofing jobs, for replacing windows and doors and for re-siding projects. Such projects require both half-way and final inspections. In addition, dumpsters during such projects must be covered to keep debris contained, Christensen added.
When it comes to scams, there are a garden variety of crooked ways to get someone’s money. A common way is to ask a resident for advance money to buy products needed in the repair. The crooks take the money and run, never to be seen again. Another way is for workers to do part of a job, ask for work-related money and then dash off into the sunset with the ill-begotten money in their pockets. Yet another scam is when workers do the job, but they do it so shoddily and slap-dash it might as well not have been done at all.
The best way to avoid being scammed is to take one’s time before making any decision. Never rush into a deal and never give money or a check to anyone until a legitimate, double-checked contract is signed.
Before hiring a contractor, do the following:
Ask for the contractor’s license number. Numbers will be verified at the time a permit is applied for.
Ask the contractors how long they have been in business and where the business is located.
Ask for references and check with former customers to find out if they were satisfied with the work.
Ask for a Minnesota business address other than a post-office box.
Ask for a local phone number where the contractor can be reached during normal business hours.
Ask the Department of Labor and Industry for sanctions or other actions on record taken against the contractor in question. Call 651-284-5069 or 1-800-657-3944.
People who have had dealings with unscrupulous door-to-door solicitors should call the police department immediately. People should also remember many damage-repair scams – as well as other forms of crookery – can be done via telephone.