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Protecting yourself from unscrupulous in-home workers

January 23, 2014

Whether you own a house or rent a living space, it’s inevitable that you will have an installation, handyman, or repair contractor come into your home. From cable TV, computer wiring, and phone installation to heating or plumbing service personnel, these people need access to the interior of your home in order to get the job done. Most consumers do not fear for their personal safety, and don’t give this situation a second thought. Allowing strangers into your home should, however, be cause for concern, for good reason.

People have been robbed, assaulted, even murdered at the hands of in-home workers. In February 2001, Sue Weaver hired a well-known department store service to clean the air ducts in her Florida home. Two men were subcontracted by the store to perform the cleaning; both were ex-cons with known criminal backgrounds. One of the men returned six months later to rape and murder her, and then set fire to the home to destroy the evidence. Despite having admitted during the job application process that he served 14 years in prison, a background check was never done.

In September 2010, a 49 year-old Las Vegas man was arrested on child molestation charges for an incident that occurred while he was in the child’s home to repair an air conditioner- he was the owner of the business! In July of 2013, a 22 year-old Missouri cable repairman was sentenced to 75 years in prison for burglary, forcible sodomy, felonious restraint, and armed criminal action for terrorizing, tying up, and sexually assaulting a 24 year-old victim at her apartment where he had been assigned to connect her television.

What can you do to protect yourself and your loved ones?

Sue Weaver’s sister, Lucia Bone, founded the Sue Weaver C.A.U.S.E., a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting Consumer Awareness of Unsafe Service Employment to require proper annual criminal background checks on all workers sent to peoples’ homes. Here are five helpful safety suggestions:

1. Ask the company if they do pre-hiring criminal background checks. If not, don’t use them and tell them why.

2. Perform your own due diligence to research the company and the person coming into your home.

3. Have another adult in the house when any kind of service is being done in or around the home. Invite a friend over for coffee, and remember that your children are not protection. You are more vulnerable if alone with small children because an attacker may threaten you with the life of your child if you don’t do what he wants.

4. Don’t hesitate to say “no” if you don’t feel safe when the worker arrives. Trust your instincts and turn them away or don’t open the door.

5. Beware of leading questions from the service worker who may actually be accumulating intelligence, such as, “You look like you work out at a gym, where do you go?” or “My wife and I have small children and are always looking for new parks to go to. Do you have a favorite?”

Unfortunately, stories about in-home workers committing crimes are not uncommon. A local homeowner read a recent news story about an attic insulation subcontractor in Massachusetts who had brutally murdered a retired schoolteacher in her home. “Influenced by the story, I told the owner of a heating repair company that I was worried I’d be killed by the person he was sending over” states Betty Galligan, who needed emergency repair work done to her heating system. “I needed the work done fast because we had no heat, yet found out they don’t do background checks on their employees. The owner gave me a lot of information about the person who was assigned to come to my home, including his full name and that he was not a subcontractor and had worked for him for 20 years. That set me at ease, but I didn’t hesitate to tell the owner that if I were harmed in any way, he’d have to live with that on his conscience. I was desperate for the service and accepted his explanation. In the future, I will only use service companies who perform background checks. How can companies today NOT want to do background checks on people they’re sending into homes?”

It’s important not to judge a person by their “official-looking” truck, uniform, or paperwork. Don’t rely on whether a company is bonded and insured, since that only protects the company from the behavior of their workers.

The best advice is to find out what you can about whom you are allowing into your home for any reason. A little knowledge can go a long way and just may keep you and those you live with safe.

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