March 2, 2022
I must apologize for not being able to respond to many of the posts related to the arrest of those who have perpetrated crimes related to what I will refer to as "pine straw scams, but I nor anyone on my staff has the time to constantly monitor the many social media sites and respond in real time. On the other hand, we do use social media to connect with public in our efforts to prevent and solve crimes.
These "pine straw scams" usually involve individuals going door-to-door offering to sell and install pine straw around shrubbery, etc. They initially quote you a low price for their work but when they complete the job, they inform you that it took far more bales of straw than they originally thought and demand payment many times more the amount originally quoted. They will evidence their work by showing you the number of pieces of orange twine from the bales. Of course, they already had those pieces of orange twine before they ever started the job and probably used the same ones on the last victim they defrauded.
It should be noted that these criminals almost always target elderly people and will become quite aggressive and intimidate their victims at the time they demand payment. It is a crime to defraud anyone, and the offense we usually charge them with is Theft by Deception, which is a felony if the amount of money a person was defrauded exceeds $1,500. If the victim of the fraud is over 65 years of age, we are generally able to charge the offender(s) with Exploitation of an Elder Person, which is a separate felony offense with a more serious penalty. As all businesses in the unincorporated area of the county are already required to have occupation registrations (new term for business licenses), we also usually issue a citation to the offender(s) for violating the county's ordinance of not having a registration.
We have apprehended two groups of individuals perpetrating the pine straw scam in the last month, but there are still groups out there committing these crimes. Yesterday, we responded to a group of individuals perpetrating a paving/sealing scam. These individuals had extensive criminal records and two of them were wanted for crimes in other states.
To assist my office in in combatting this apparent endemic of fraud, the Putnam County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution at their meeting last Friday that has now imposed an absolute moratorium on door-to-door sales and offers of services in the unincorporated area of the county.
This moratorium will remain in place for the time being while the commissioners are formalizing an ordinance that will require all door-to-door sales and solicitors to possess a license before engaging such business. This new ordinance will include a vetting process that will hopefully prevent unreputable people from getting licenses. There will be an exemption for non-profit organizations like the Girl Scouts selling their cookies.
Again, I remind you that it is presently a violation for any person to come to your door offering to perform any service or sell you anything. Please call my office immediately should anyone come to your home or business attempting to conduct such sales or services. I will advise you when the new ordinance is in effect and licenses have been issued for legitimate door-to-door businesses.
Howard R. Sills, Sheriff