Investigators Warn Against Lightning Rod Scam

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Kansas investigators are hot on the trail of scam artists who are selling lightning rods for tens of thousands of dollars. Rods that cost less than $50.

Authorities said these crews are targeting mostly the elderly in rural areas, offering to sell the lightning rods to protect their homes. One woman in Kearny County lost around $40,000 to the con artists.

"She was charged money for installation and equipment and a year and a half later the same crew came back," said Darrell Walters, Kearny County detective.

He said when the crew came back the crew leader told the woman part of her equipment broke so she paid $18,000 to fix it.

Investigators said they are looking into several cases that may be connected in Kansas and Missouri. If you are approached by these groups of workers, authorities want you to get a tag number and report it to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation at 1-800-KS-CRIME (1-800-572-7463).

Kearny County Press Release

Law enforcement agencies in Kansas are currently investigating a series of related frauds with out-of-state ties. The frauds generally target rural residents, often elderly persons. The schemes take the form of lightning protection system schemes, asphalt schemes, tree trimming, or home repair/painting schemes. Persons involved in these schemes are often associated with larger organizations which travel the country in cyclical periods, returning to call on previous victims every few months or years.

One example of a current scheme is the sale and installation of lightning protection systems, made up of rooftop lightning rods connected by a grounding cable. In at least two instances in western Kansas, crews have contacted rural residents agreeing to install systems for large sums of money. The crew completes the work, which may take a very short time. Upon payment, the crew leaves.

The scheme continues within the following months or years. A crew will show up to a previously installed system and offer to perform service on that system. After inspection, faults in the system are identified and a new agreement for repair or service is made. Upon completion of the service, the crew is paid another large sum.

There are several constants in these types of scams. One is that the work is unsolicited. It is generally preceded by a crew showing up at a rural residence unannounced and offering to make repairs or installations with no notice. The lead crew member will usually give an estimate of charges and receive a signature or initials authorizing the service. The crew leader will then occupy the resident while the remaining crew members do the work, thereby impeding the resident’s ability to see if it is done efficiently or correctly. Finally, the crew leader will receive the check for the work and immediately go to the bank of origin and cash it.

With some regularity, the same crews will switch schemes. The crew performing lighting protection system installations in 2009 may perpetrate asphalt schemes in 2010, and barn painting schemes in 2011. Often the type of schemes perpetrated is directly related to the amount of law enforcement attention focused on that type of scheme at any given time.

Sometimes the perpetrators of these schemes use high-pressure sales tactics to coerce customers to agree to outrageous pricing for their services. Other victims have reported being charged more than the cost originally agreed upon for the service. Some report feeling obligated to pay the higher amount because the work was completed and they are threatened with lawsuits.

There are currently active investigations into this type of fraud in Kearny and Scott Counties in Western Kansas. It is believed that there are unreported incidents in the region, as well. If you or someone you know may have been a victim to this type of scam, please contact the Kearny County Sheriff’s Department at (620) 355-6211, the Scott County Sheriff’s Department at (620) 872-5805, or the Kansas Bureau of Investigation at 1-800-KS-CRIME (1-800-572-7463).

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