Dear PoPville – Scam Alert

Photo by PoPville flickr user fromcaliw/love

Dear PoPville,

Got scammed yesterday, swindled, by a flim-flam man . . . for 30 big ones! I live in a standard DC rowhouse. Hatch to the roof is covered so it is tough to get up there without a really tall ladder. There’s a guy going around the neighborhood saying he’s got a guy working up on the roof who looked down at my place and saw that the gutters are clogged with birdsnest, a tennis ball (some kid most have thrown it up there), and walnuts (squirrels carry them up and forget them . . .). His guy will clean my gutter while he’s up there for 30 bucks. He starts naming all of my neighbors saying who he has done work for, including my next door neighbors who have totally been around the block, and one that he’s repairing a skylight for, so he can go up through their hatch and then walk over to my roof easily. Sure, ok, they’ve never been cleaned and hard to beat 30 bucks for anything.

The guy himself gets up on top of the porch roof and picks off a couple of leaves to show he’s earnest. His guy will do the upper roof between jobs. He comes back 30 minutes later and says his guy is done. I pay him, and give him an extra couple of bucks . . . then think, hey, I never even saw a guy on the roof. I ask where he threw the junk and birdsnest. “He bagged it.” Really, and carried it through those people’s house? Where is he now? “He’s working inside on the skylight.” I want to meet him. “I’m not going to interrupt his work just to make you feel better. I’ll bring him by later and then you’ll feel guilty.” Well, just call him and get him to wave to me from the roof. “My cell phone fell in some water last week. You can go up on your roof and inspect it if you don’t trust me.” Of course, if I could get up on my roof I wouldn’t have hired him . . .

I talked to my neighbors. No one has seen the mysterious other guy on the roof. One neighbor asked him for a business card. “Just ordered some, they’re on the way.” Can I see your ID? “Here’s a credit card.” Then he half pulls out a driver’s license and walks away.

He’s no Sawyer (in intellect, hotness, or nick-naming) but it’s kinda brilliant. Low cost so your guard is down. He’s right there, but there’s no way to check his work. 30 bucks isn’t a bad deal for a good learning experience . . . but save your people the cost.

106 Comment

  • bfinpetworth

    I paid a guy for similar work, but there was no second mystery man, just one guy. And only $20. I was suspicious but went along. Interesting though that he informed me I had a birdsnest in my downspout…

  • Damn… wish I’d seen this last Thursday. He got me then. I paid the sonofabitch $30, and he used my cell phone (I dialed the numbers to make sure he was calling 202 area code). Guess I got bamboozled too. Said the same thing to me – birds nest and a tennis ball.

    • First, anyone cleaning gutters for $30 bucks is a scam artist or an idiot. It appears your guy is not an idiot. Second, if he is using your cell does it really matter if it is long distance? Third, why are you letting some sketchy dude coming to your door to clean gutters use your cell phone? SMH

      • Because I was naive. And I was concerned not with long distance but international calls. But thanks for your sneering head-shaking; hopefully someday I’ll be as smart as you (but less of a douche).

        • Well, clearly you werent the only one fooled. I guess that is how you learn. My assumption is that the little voice in the back of your head went off at some point. Next time you will know to listen to it, so 30 bucks is probably a bargin. If you are concerned this dude is making international calls, just tell him no. I wasn’t trying to a dick as much as I was saying use your common sense and think logically.

          • You’re not wrong. I didn’t want to appear unfriendly by saying he couldn’t use my phone. Next time I’ll be less concerned about that, and more self-protective. In that line, $30 wasn’t too much to learn that lesson.

  • Our neighborhood had an infamous painter, who would offer to paint your front railing for $25 or $50. Even though I had him paint my railing, I got suspicious when he was working on my neighbor’s house and seemed to spend way too much time staring in the windows. Later arrested for burglary at someone else’s house, of course.

  • Can the OP let everyone know their neighborhood? Thx.

  • sounds like a low-rent version of the Traveller scams. Anyway, this is reason number 50 why i don’t answer the door when there is a knock. If it’s someone i know, they would’ve called, if it’s someone knocking, then it’s some jehova’s witness or other annoying person trying to sell me something that i don’t want. If i wanted to buy something I would go on the internet and order it, not buy it from a door-to-door sketchy person.

    • I hear you on that one!

    • Meh. Had a guy knock on our door a couple of months ago, asking if we’d like them to tackle the grass and bushes around our house. They were obviously cleaning up the yard 2 doors down from us. $25 to clear up the front and back of the house, and they only took 30 mins. Best $25 spent.

      And we live in Edgewood.

  • I’ve heard a similar scam has been going on in Crestwood as well.

  • Yes – this happened to us on Shepherd st 1300 block as well. White male, haggard looking, maybe mid 40’s? Exact same scam, he was holding a piece of gutter. Got us too…

  • Same guy came around Shepherd and 14th last week. He told me that he’d do it for $25 “plus tip”. I had heard him recite verbatim the same tennis ball and bird’s nest BS to several other neighbors. I do not hire people that come door to door (for this exact reason) and always vet folks through Angie’s List – so I told him no. Plus this sounded way to low to be credible. A day or two after this happened, I heard from the rest of the block that he’d come around as well. In one case, he came back and demanded payment citing that the spouse (not home at the time) had okay the work.

    • Argh! Same guy got me last week. Nothing about the tennis ball or nest, but the “plus tip” part was the same. F*&$!

  • I had a guy try this on me once, but I told him that I would give him a hand and that I also wanted to check out the shingles….he then walked away

  • He got us too – in Manor Park. Tennis ball. Came back a few days later and said his car had broke down with his grandkids in it could we lend him 40 bucks and he’d pay us back later. We gave him some money (not expecting to get it back). He came back to pay us the next day but “all he had was $100 bill” and said did we have change, even if our change wasn’t enough, he’d let us keep whatever was left over. We said no, just keep it we don’t want it.

    I totally believed him the first time with the gutter work, knew he was probably lying the second time but viewed it as pathetic begging, and the third time, I was SURE that 100 was counterfeit so we’d be scammed out of whatever the change we gave him for it was. geez dude, just go around begging and be honest about it.

    • Same thing happened to us about a month ago. He said he cleaned our gutters (they’re not clean, although he did get on our roof) and then came back a couple of nights later saying his car broke down and he needed cab fare for a friend he was taking to the train station (or something like that). We didn’t have any cash and told him so; he gave us a really hard time and asked us to go to an ATM with him.

      I was 99% sure it was a scam, but still felt guilty for not helping him out the second time. I’m good at the guilt.

      • Never go to an ATM with someone begging you for money, you might as well hand them your wallet and save yourself from at best getting shoved to the ground when they grab it

  • how do people fall for these scams? did you call for the work to be done? no? ok, then send them on their way.

  • People actually fell for this?? I guess P.T. Barnum was right.

    • He preys on our vulnerability. Clearly you don’t know the pain of trying to pass a tennis ball through your downspout.

    • Pretty much. Living in NYC, I developed a keen sense for this crap. My girlfriend, who spent most of her life in a very nice suburb of CT, hasn’t. She thinks I’m being mean when I ignore these types or “blow up their spot”, but I think it’s because my responses make her feel like a sucker. White guilt is a helluva drug.

      Example: Two weeks ago a strung out white girl approached us at 11th & W and asked us to use our cell phone. She said that she went outside to smoke and left her phone in her friend’s apartment (motioning to a Section 8 building at the corner of 12th and W), and that she couldn’t get back in the building and doesn’t know their buzzer number. My gf said, “Oh my phone is dead, but you can use my boyfriend’s phone!” Ugh.

      What my girlfriend didn’t notice was that there was an African-American man trailing about 75 feet behind the strung out female, who was closely watching our interaction with the young woman. Furthermore, I’ve never once seen a Caucasian person come in or out of the low income building in my 10 months of living next to it. It’s mostly filled with Hispanics. Obviously, the alarm bells start going off in my head and I ask the girl, “Are you in any sort of danger?” She starts getting nervous and just says, “No. I just need your phone.” I tell the girl my phone is dead and we walk inside, with my girlfriend saying, “Why didn’t you give her your phone? What’s wrong with you?” I explain to my GF that they were running a scam and that I’d probably never get my phone back if I gave it to them. I watched the girl from the porch of my building and she walked down the block, met up with the African-American man and they headed up to U Street together. Something obviously was amiss.

      • Your GF must be the one I see walking around looking at her smartphone at 12:30 am in Columbia Heights. It would be funny except she is going to wake up in the hospital if she doesn’t wise up.

      • 12th and W is low cost senior housing. It is not section 8.

        • Thanks for the accurate info – I knew it was low cost, I just didn’t know the exact demographic. Even more reason not to trust this girl – her “friend” is an elderly Hispanic senior?!?! Yeah, right.

    • People are being a little tough on the scammed posters, methinks.

      I am super-wary of anyone going door to door (and don’t usually answer random knocks), but I can see myself possibly being taken in by this guy, precisely because I had been meaning to find a professional gutter-cleaner but hadn’t gotten around to it.

      I don’t know what his manner/bearing was like, but it sounds like he was practiced enough in his pitch that it wasn’t immediately obvious he was a scammer.

      • As a former door to door canvasser, I find it funny that people are more likely to trust a guy with no credentials claiming his “buddy” is goign to do a service for you if you pay him up front, but completely distrustful of someone with a clipboard and forms from a legit nonprofit, signing up members for a good cause. Canvassing agencies are careful who they hire, and if you write a check your money is safe, as long as it’s a legit organization you are writing it to. Don’t be so scared that you trust nobody in face to face interactions.

  • He knocked on my door a few months ago and said he was cleaning my neighbor’s gutters and noticed mine were dirty as well. I new immediately it was a scam because my neighbors would never pay someone to clean their gutters (hard enough just to buy food) and my gutters were brand new and I have no trees above my roof. I’m at 8th & Delafield. You have to hand it to him for being creative.

    • 7th and Farragut, and had a guy come by asking to clean my gutters. It first it was $20, then $15, then $10, but I wasn’t interested. Sounds like the same guys have been hammering North Petworth.

      What are you people doing falling for this? Come on! At a minimum, negotiate it down… Especially if the guy is already on the roof and just has to walk over.. How is that worth $30!

    • Same thing at 7th and Decatur – came by a month or so ago, and we told him to move along.

  • Someone should ask the guy to help them shave their armpits in the Billy Madison maid voice

  • He knocked on our door at 7:30 a.m. on Labor Day weekend. Luckily, we did accept his services. We also noticed he wasn’t on anyone else’s roof, had no equipment, etc. We’re located at 5th & Ingraham.

  • Don’t know if it’s the same guy, but a couple months ago one stopped by and told me our gutters were jammed with leaves and needed cleaning. Told him we had Gutter Helmet so that’s clearly impossible, and he could be on his way. He got argumentative with me and wanted me to come down the steps and look up to see for myself. blah blah blah He finally left.

    Last Sunday same guy, who’s clearly not mentally stable, shows up at 9:30 in the morning and says “we’re” working on the neighbor’s roof and wanted to make sure they weren’t making too much noise. I’m not that stupid. Told him he’d been here before with the same scam and to beat it. He got belligerent but made his way out the gate. Got to the sidewalk and told me to go fuck myself. When I said “Excuse me?” He said he’d get somebody to come bust all our windows. I told him I was calling the police.

    I’d be leery about hiring anyone to do anything if they solicited at the door. May be not nice and some legitimate people might be out a job, but sorry. Bottom line, unless you go looking for a service, don’t hire for one on your stoop.

  • has anyone contacted the cops about this? I can see this happening to some elderly folks who may not have much money to spare…

    • It’s just a hunch, but I have a feeling these guys aren’t hitting up the elderly locals who have been in the neighborhood forever. They know who the new, wealthier residents are and probably specifically target them since $30 isn’t much to them.

  • This is almost certainly the same creep who was plaguing Crestwood and 16th Street Heights in August and September. I followed his antics on neighborhood list-serves, plus had my own unpleasant run-in with him. Total lying scammer. Becomes belligerent and threatening pretty easily. Steer clear!

  • That guy is totally going to break into your hatch later and burglarize your house.

  • Hey hey hey hey hey now, “30 big ones” means thirty thousand dollars, not thirty dollars. Geez.

  • We fell for the same thing… And then the guy showed up a few days later in the middle of the night, asking for my husband by name because he needed money to get his car towed… He said his name was Larry, name dropped neighbors, etc.

  • I’d be more worried about what @georgetowner said about breakins… not that you got scammed out of $30 but that someone has now been all over the roofs and knows who has skylights / hatches and the general layout of the front of your house (not inside, but whether you have bars, if you’re home in the middle of the day, etc).

    I’ve been wondering myself about a guy who came to my house a few months ago and said my next-door neighbor (whose name he knew) was up for security clearance and he needed to ask me some questions. It made me really uncomfortable and I didn’t think it was normal to talk to neighbors about that kind of stuff (everyone I know who has been up for security clearance has provided a list of people they’ve lived with or worked with, that they’re aware of ahead of time), and this guy showed his government id and badge to me so quickly I didn’t have time to verify it. My discomfort was compounded by the fact that he had his granddaughter with him for this interview. Does anyone know if that’s legit or not?

    • I had a case where an investigator did come in person to ask about my neighbor (in a condo building), but I wasn’t home and he left his business card. I called a day or two later from my office.

      The neighbor had not given me an advance heads-up. (It would have been nice if he’d done so.)

      Sounds to me like the investigator you talked to might indeed have been legit, but if he was, I’m surprised that he’d have his granddaughter with him.

    • That is totally not legit. They would never show up for the security clearance out of the blue like that and no way would someone’s granddaughter be with him. I hope you didn’t give out a ton of information.

      • I don’t know about the showing up with his granddaughter thing, but it’s completely legit for an investigator to show up “out of the blue” for a security clearance investigation of the subject’s neighbors. Anyone you list as a close friend will be contacted in advance so that a sitdown interview can be arranged. But it’s not at all uncommon for them to just show up unnanounced at a neighbor’s house to ask general questions about the subject of the clearance. A legitimate investigator will display his or her credentials to you until you are satisfied that you have reviewed them. He or she will not just “flash” them at you.

        • This.
          For certain types and/or levels of clearance the investigators will show up out of the blue to speak with neighbors.
          Hell – given the level – they will travel overseas to conduct interviews with foreign nationals.
          Though – the granddaughter in tow is strange. In that case I would ask for their card and say that I will call them.

          • As someone who has run countless background investigations, it is generally considered poor form to show up unannounced.

        • Yeah, I have had an FBI investigator show up out of the blue to ask about my neighbor, saying she was up for a new clearance. I already knew she had a job that required a pretty high level of clearance so I didn’t think there was anything suspicious about it. He just basically wanted to know if she was a big partier (which she absolutely was not) and if there was anything out of the ordinary about her friends/activity. It all seemed legit and he provided a lot of credentials.

      • No, I figured if I had any doubts it was best to play it safe; most of the questions were what other commenters described, asking about suspicious activity, if he seemed like a trustworthy guy, and all I said was yes he seems nice but I don’t know him well enough to answer the other questions. I didn’t think then and I don’t think after reading responses that it was some kind of recon, but I figured it was worth asking about while we’re on the subject… it does seem like the kind of thing that could be pulled in this city, doesn’t it? And after reading stories on PoP about people opening their doors and getting robbed, I’m a little paranoid when I hear knocks I’m not expecting.

    • I have also had to answer questions about a neighbor for a security clearance – they only do this for pretty high clearances, not for all federal employees, but it is a real thing. The granddaughter part is weird though. I don’t think that would be allowed, but I don’t know for sure.

    • Whole point of a clearance is that they want to talk to people other than those whose names you give. It is very common for them to talk to neighbors and out of the blue. They talked to neighbors in my old apartment building. They usually ask stuff like whether neighbors have seen any unusual activity next door, suspicious people, etc.

      • Meant to add that the granddaughter being with him is totally not okay/inappropriate. That would have weirded me out.

      • They also want to comfirm you actually live there. They talked with my neighbors when I got my clearance.

      • Any govt. person legitimately asking info. on anybody or anything – will have an official photo ID. They will also wait outside while you go back in the house and phone to check their credentials.

    • gotryit

      The granddaughter thing is weird, as is the quick badge flip. I’ve always physically taken a badge from these people to look at it before talking to them.
      But the investigators will look into people who are not from your list. They have your addresses, etc. and will try to see if you’re hiding a piece of your life from them (i.e., drugs, etc.). I have had agents come by to ask about neighbors.

      On that note, be nice to your neighbors.

    • Allison

      Yeah, I know from experience that random asking of neighbors regarding security clearance is a pretty standard procedure. They will hand you their credentials and give you time to look at them, though, as well as explain the process. I didn’t know my neighbor very well at the time, but they asked me things about whether their was any suspicious activities, loud parties, late night visitors, unusual displays of conspicuous wealth, etc. I’ve done this for both random neighbors and family and friends (I’ve practically memorized the interview questions.)

    • This is the phone number for verifying an OPM investigator’s identity: (888) 795-5673. Presumably there is a similar number for other types of agents.

  • This exact thing, probably by the same guy, happened to my daycare provider in Park View, except he took $40 from her, as a reduced price for seniors, and promised to come back two hours later to fix up the siding for $60. She had really only agreed to a $100 package deal so she’d get the siding fixed.

  • Damn. We got taken, too! My neighbor often pays random handymen to do stuff like this, so it sounded totally legit. But I didn’t even tell him to do the work – I said it sounded interesting and I would talk with my husband and let him know. He knocked on the door 20 minutes later telling me it was all done and it would be $25. I tried to clarify, and totally thought it was my own miscommunication, so I just went ahead and paid him…

  • We got taken as well a few months ago. I live just on the north end of Petworth near Brightwood Park. I paid the dude $25. He said that he did work for one of the old timers on the block (which I’ll be sure to let him know). I don’t recall his name, but I remember it being a “girl” name, like Amy or something. When he came to collect he said that he saw evidence of raccoons living on the roof and could take care of them for $100 by pouring bleach and ammonia down there and patch it up. I told him, no thanks.

    He got two or three of our neighbors. Only charged them $20.

    AND the fucker came back a few nights later knocking on the door asking my husband for money — something to do with kid’s school.

    We told him to get lost.

    So, yeah. I got scammed, but it will only happen once

  • After living in DC for 20 + years I can assure you the moment a stranger at your door starts mentioning neighbors they are working for, or the sick neighbor they are raising money for, excuse yourself and shut the door.

    I learned this the hard way.

  • I didn’t get scammed with gutter cleaning, but a younger guy knocked on my door on Tuesday around 5:30pm. At first he tried to sell me the Sunday-edition of the WashPost, which I said I didn’t want. Then he said he was doing it to raise money so he could go to college. I said I wasn’t interested, and he kept insisting, telling me I could just give him money but not get the subscription. I said no and shut the door.

    It did rattle me, since I was home by myself at the time. Is it acceptable to not open the glass “security” door when talking to unknown people?

    • Yes. It is acceptable to do anything within the confines of you home. You could also lie and say you don’t have the key to the glass door on you.

    • If you’re worried about contributing to a hostile, distrutful atmosphere to your neighbors, understand that anyone would recognize their status as a stranger and understand reticence about opening your security door for them (that’s why everyone in the city has a security door). No one worth trusting would be eager to push you into opening it if you feel uncomfortable.

    • “Is it acceptable to not open the glass “security” door when talking to unknown people?”


  • This guy came to our house, twice. Once he talked to my parents (who were on their way in, visiting) outside, which was weird enough, but a few weeks later he came back when I was at home. He was obviously scamming from what I could tell, and plus, it was dark outside, which would make you wonder how his guy saw anything from a neighboring roof. We have a new porch on the back with new gutters so I got rid of him telling him if there was a problem I’d just talk to the porch guys about it. He seemed pretty annoyed by this and stalked off, and then I watched him shuffle south towards the metro (and obviously not near any neighbor house where his supposed guy was working, where they could see the back of our house).

  • This guy’s earning $30/half hour and clearly doing a lively business. I chose the wrong career.

  • He knocked on our door about two weeks ago. We live on Kansas Ave. Same deal – bird’s nest, tennis ball, etc. He only was going to charge us $15. I told him to come back and leave his card in our mailbox and we would get in touch when we needed him. Needless to say – no card.

  • Did you people just fall off the turnip truck? Unsolicited strangers who want cash to “work” on your place? Your next tattoo should say “Easy Mark”.

    • Unsolicited odd-jobbers are an American pastime, and home ownership comes with the need for these things (e.g. snow shoveling & no-fuss lawn mowing). This is unique in that the job was impossible to verify.

    • Only slighlty harsh, but overall I agree. Why would you hire someone to work on your HOME who solicits YOU? Legitimate businesses don’t operate that way.

  • I have the hispanic guys do the weed-whacker on the little patch of grass out front every couple of weeks. It’s $15, totally worth it. They started out as strangers knocking on my door, but now they’re my regular guys. I sometimes see them around the neighborhood trying to drum up work, but if my lawn looks good, they don’t bother me. Also, after a first slightly botched job, they know now to avoid various plants and are very careful.

    It’s not fair to say that folks taking advantage of roaming labor are stupid or provincial. I think it’s pretty dumb to buy and store lawn maintenance equipment when you have 25 square feet of lawn, given the friendly and reliable alternative.

  • this guy has been trolling the area around EL Haynes with this scam too. he even goes so far as to tell you that he only charges seniors $25 to show you what a great, community-spirited guy he is. the beauty of challenging him is, if you really do go up to check on the work before paying him, he takes that opportunity to leave-which is what happended in my case. i’m sure he’s been successful or he wouldn’t keep doing it. 30 bucks can be a difference-making amount of money to someone on a fixed income. if i see him in the neighborhood again, i’m calling the cops.

    this just encourages my blanket policy of saying no to anyone who shows up on my doorstep offering to do work. a mowed lawn is obvious and easy to monitor but a cleaned gutter is not. still, i guess it did motivate me to actually climb up onto my roof and check things out for myself.

  • A guy attempted the same scam on me one morning @ 7AM. I called police and they are aware of him. Light-skinned Black guy about 5’8″ thin build constant talker. It is obvious he is a scam , he travels on FOOT.

    PS.> zero_sum—- U sound like a bigot or an asshole, go back where you came from

  • A guy just knocked on our door (700 block of Webster St NW) and said the same thing – tennis ball, bird’s nest, etc. Nice to know that this wasn’t for real! Many thanks to the OP for getting the word out.

  • The stupidest thing about this is that it would be a really good legit job to honestly clean out people’s gutters for $30.00. Clearly there a lot of people willing to pay it – and a service that needs doing. A legit guy could do 2 houses an hour – and if servicing a whole neighborhood – could make $5-600.00 a day.

    Maybe there is some job-corps or church group that could take this on an opportunity for all the unemployed youth.

  • Worth noting that this dude did, in fact, clean and caulk my clogged-up-and-leaking gutters for $30. Despite some weird sales tactics, I consider it $30 well-spent, since now I don’t have to get up on the roof for another 6 months.

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