Summer is prime time for home improvements, and many of us hire people to help. But when you let strangers into your home, you may want to take some precautions.
We invite all kinds of people into our homes -- utility workers, contractors, housekeepers, the cable guy. And most of the time, it's no problem, but in some cases, crooks can use these jobs to gain access and information.
Police say Gabriel Cook was a patient man with a plan.
In the small town of Franklinton, Louisiana, a 91-year-old woman called a satellite cable company for installation. Cook was the subcontractor dispatched to her home.
"He lay in wait until she got home," Franklinton Police Capt. Justin Brown said. "He spent a large amount of time inside and outside the home. ... He was able to gain the knowledge at that time to be able to come back and commit his crime later."
More than a year after the service call, in January 2010, police said Cook broke through burglar bars and waited for his prey to come home. They said he then tied her up and threatened her until she gave him the pin number to her credit card.
Cook was arrested and charged with five counts, including burglary and kidnapping. He has pleaded not guilty.
In Bergen County, New Jersey, police said Kinga Malkowska, the daughter of a housekeeper, stole jewelry from several homes where her mom worked. Malkowska was arrested. She denied the charges.
In Philadelphia, neighbors said a two-person team posed as water department workers to get inside people's homes. A 90-year-old man said he was tackled to the ground and robbed. The thieves were never caught.
And in perhaps the most famous case of hired help accused of victimizing a homeowner, Brian David Mitchell allegedly kidnapped Elizabeth Smart.
Mitchell knew the family, because Smart's parents had hired him to rake leaves and help fix their roof. Authorities said Mitchell and his estranged wife kept Smart for nine months, until she was spotted by an alert passerby. Mitchell is scheduled for trial in Salt Lake City this November.
Bob Rusbuldt, the president and CEO of the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, said the No. 1 way to reduce crime in these cases is to never leave a contractor alone in your home.
"You form a bond with these people, and you trust them, but sometimes it's a false trust," he said. "Sometimes these people are in your house for weeks, maybe months. But these are not family members. They are contractors."
Rusbuldt said heavy summer rains and their aftermath create the perfect storm for some contractors who may want to capitalize on your catastrophe.
"Contractors come out of the woodwork. And some people hire them on the spot, which is the exact wrong thing to do. Don't jump at the first contractor who knocks on your door," he said.
Aggressive contractors who go door to door could be scammers -- or worse.
"When a situation like this happens, it takes away their security," Brown said.
In other words, the wrong worker could take not only your money but your sense of safety.
OK, so what can you do? First of all, never hire anyone in the first place without checking their references.