The abduction of Elizabeth Smart underscores what police and homeowner groups say is a serious problem: handymen, repair crews and other residential contractors who commit crimes at the homes they service.
Every week, San Diego police receive at least one or two reports from homeowners who say they have been burglarized by contractors, repairmen or thieves posing as handymen.
Law enforcement officials recommend that consumers do some research before hiring someone to work on their home - talk to neighbors or check with licensing boards.
"Go to the Yellow Pages and talk to the construction industry" to make sure the person is who he says he is, police spokesman Bill Robinson said.
The abduction of Elizabeth Smart, who police say was taken by a man hired by the family to work on their roof, is only the latest in a series of crimes attributed to handymen or other workers brought into the home.
Last year in Indiana, a handyman strangled two boys and then killed himself. In 2000, Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly had thousands of dollars' worth of memorabilia stolen by a man hired to work on his home.
In Carlsbad five years ago, a computer technician was caught molesting two 5-year-old girls inside the house. The suspect turned up in Idaho two years later after a nationwide manhunt.
Such cases mark a disturbing trend that homeowner groups are taking very seriously.
"Handymen are the least regulated and least standardized kind of contractor there is," said Richard Roll, President of the American Homeowners Association in Stamford, Conn. "The most important thing is to screen these individuals with references from people you respect - neighbors, people who have used them more than once."
"You want someone who's stable and who has a reliable track record," he said.
There are numerous sources for referrals for home laborers or construction workers - the phone book, the Internet, job agencies, among others.
However, even when reputable people are hired to perform a specific job, they may bring subcontractors or other workers along who have never been screened. . . .
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