Woodchucking Scam (Alert): Protecting Elder Couples in Silver Spring from Financial Fraud

Attention, residents of Silver Spring, Maryland! There’s a new financial scam on the rise, specifically targeting vulnerable elder couples in our community. Known as the Woodchucking Scam, this deceitful scheme preys on the trust and goodwill of seniors, aiming to strip them of their hard-earned savings.

woodchucking scam
woodchucking scam

In this blog post, we will shed light on the Woodchucking Scam, its tactics, and most importantly, provide valuable information on how you can safeguard yourself and your loved ones from falling victim to this fraudulent activity. Let’s stay vigilant and protect our community from financial harm.

Overview of Woodchucking Scam

In Silver Spring, Maryland, an elderly couple in their 80s encountered a man who approached them under the pretense of being a skilled woodworker and repairer. For the privacy and safety of the couple, their identities and exact location have been kept confidential. This man, who went by the name Joseph Swanson, initially appeared helpful but soon displayed aggressive behavior. Upon inspecting the couple’s property, Joseph noted down various items that supposedly required repairs.

Unbeknownst to the couple, Joseph had already devised a fraudulent plan known as the Woodchucking Scam. He manipulated the situation by exaggerating the urgency of the repairs and included unnecessary tree branches for removal.

However, what Joseph didn’t anticipate was the couple’s emotional attachment to a particular tree that held cherished memories of their childhood. The couple remained unaware of the scam unfolding before them, trusting Joseph’s list of repairs. Little did they know, Joseph had cunningly added items to inflate the final bill, including unnecessary repairs that weren’t actually needed.

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How do They act?

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The scammers involved in the Woodchucking Scam use various tactics to deceive their victims. Here are some common ways they operate:

  1. Building trust: Scammers often try to establish a sense of trust with their victims by claiming they have previously worked on their homes or have experience in the field of home repairs. This familiarity helps them gain the victims’ confidence.
  2. Aggressive behavior: In some cases, scammers may display aggressive behavior to intimidate the victims. This aggression can put pressure on the victims to comply with the scammers’ demands without questioning their motives.
  3. Urgency and exaggerated repairs: The scammers create a sense of urgency, claiming that expensive emergency repairs are required immediately. They may exaggerate the extent of the repairs needed to make the situation seem more critical.
  4. Unnecessary services: Scammers often include unnecessary repairs or services to inflate the final bill. They may suggest removing healthy tree branches or perform repairs that are not actually needed, exploiting the victims’ lack of knowledge in these areas.
  5. Emotional manipulation: Scammers may target sentimental attachments of the victims to manipulate them emotionally. They may disregard the emotional value of certain objects or areas, pressuring the victims to agree to unnecessary changes or removals.
  6. Involvement of accomplices: Scammers may work in teams, bringing along their wives, children, or other accomplices to create a façade of legitimacy and trustworthiness. This involvement of family members can further deceive the victims into believing in the scammers’ credibility.

It’s essential to be cautious and skeptical when approached by individuals offering home repair services. Always verify the identity and credentials of anyone you hire, and seek multiple opinions or estimates before committing to any expensive repairs.

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The Woodchucking Scam

In the Woodchucking Scam, the targeted couple used their checking account to write checks for the repairs. Joseph, the main perpetrator, took advances from the couple to purchase the materials needed for the supposed repairs. He also enlisted the help of Travis Jenkins and Nicholas Shonabin, who also received advance payments for materials.

Unfortunately, the work progressed slowly and remained incomplete. Joseph repeatedly made excuses, claiming that his partner was hospitalized. Taking advantage of the couple’s reputation as community contributors, the scammers manipulated the situation to extract additional payments under the guise of hospital bills.

Montgomery County Police Intervention

To further deceive the victims, Joseph even brought his family to the couple’s house, involving them in small tasks like painting a table. This tactic likely aimed to create an illusion of legitimacy and familiarity.

The Woodchucking Scam came to light during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 when an anonymous report alerted the Montgomery County Police to suspicious activities at the couple’s residence.

Detective Cindy Miranda took charge of the investigation, conducting an audit to determine the extent of the financial losses. Shockingly, the couple had given the wood-chucking employees over $200,000 from their checking account—an exorbitant amount for unprofessional and incomplete work.

The Punishment

Joseph, upon conviction, received a prison sentence of six and a half years for his role in the Woodchucking Scam. However, Travis Jenkins and Nicholas Shonabin remain at large, and the police are actively searching for them to bring them to justice.

Who were the Scammers?

woodchucking scam
woodchucking scam

The specific scammers involved in the Woodchucking Scam mentioned in the information provided were Joseph Checklick, Travis Jenkins, and Nicholas Shonabin. Joseph Checklick, who used the alias Joseph Swanson during the scam, was the main perpetrator. He approached the elderly couple in Silver Spring, Maryland, exhibiting aggressive behavior.

Checklick had previous convictions for home improvement fraud in Montgomery County, and he ultimately received a prison sentence of six and a half years for victimizing the couple in this scam. Travis Jenkins was another accomplice mentioned, while Nicholas Shonabin, who is currently being sought by the police, was also involved in defrauding the couple.

The Target

The scammers involved in the Woodchucking Scam typically target vulnerable individuals, specifically senior citizens who live alone in their homes. The elderly couple mentioned in the provided information were in their late 80s, making them susceptible to manipulation and exploitation.

Scammers often prey on the trust, lack of technological familiarity, and potentially diminished cognitive abilities of older adults. They take advantage of their vulnerability and may assume that they have accumulated savings or assets that can be exploited through fraudulent schemes. It’s important for senior citizens and their loved ones to be aware of such scams and take precautions to protect themselves from becoming victims.

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Protect Yourself

Protecting yourself from scams like the Woodchucking Scam requires awareness, caution, and proactive measures. Here are some essential tips to help safeguard against fraudulent schemes:

  1. Be skeptical: Adopt a healthy level of skepticism when approached by individuals offering unsolicited services or making urgent claims. Remember that reputable professionals typically don’t engage in door-to-door solicitations or demand immediate payments.
  2. Verify credentials: Always verify the identity, qualifications, and credentials of individuals claiming to be contractors, repair workers, or service providers. Ask for licenses, certifications, or references and take the time to research and check their legitimacy.
  3. Get multiple opinions and estimates: Seek multiple opinions or estimates for repair or improvement work. This allows you to compare prices, assess the extent of the required work, and identify any inconsistencies or red flags in the recommendations provided.
  4. Do your research: Before engaging in any financial transactions or committing to services, conduct thorough research. Look for reviews, ratings, and feedback from reliable sources to gauge the reputation and reliability of the individuals or companies involved.
  5. Never pay upfront or in cash: Avoid making upfront payments or paying in cash, especially for large sums of money. Instead, consider using payment methods that offer fraud protection, such as credit cards or secure online payment platforms. Pay in installments or upon completion of the agreed-upon work.
  6. Protect personal information: Be cautious about sharing personal or financial information with unknown individuals. Scammers can use this information for identity theft or fraudulent activities. Only provide necessary details to trusted and verified sources.
  7. Stay informed: Keep yourself updated about common scams, their tactics, and warning signs. Stay connected with local law enforcement agencies, community organizations, or consumer protection groups that provide information and resources to help you recognize and prevent scams.
  8. Report suspicious activities: If you encounter suspicious individuals or believe you have been targeted by a scam, report the incident to your local law enforcement agency and relevant consumer protection authorities. Reporting helps raise awareness and can prevent others from becoming victims.

Remember, prevention is key when it comes to protecting yourself from scams. By staying vigilant, exercising caution, and seeking trusted advice, you can significantly reduce the risk of falling prey to fraudulent schemes.

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Conclusion: Woodchucking Scam

In conclusion, the Woodchucking Scam is a disturbing example of how vulnerable individuals, particularly the elderly, can fall victim to sophisticated fraud schemes. The couple in Silver Spring, Maryland, were targeted by Joseph Checklick and his accomplices, Travis Jenkins and Nicholas Shonabin. They used tactics such as building trust, aggression, and urgency to deceive the couple into believing that their home required costly emergency repairs.

While Joseph Checklick received a prison sentence for his role in the scam, Travis Jenkins and Nicholas Shonabin remain at large. It serves as a reminder that individuals must remain vigilant and cautious when approached by strangers offering home repair services or demanding immediate payments.

This case underscores the importance of raising awareness about scams targeting the elderly and vulnerable individuals. Education and community support are crucial in preventing and combating such fraudulent activities. By staying informed, asking for multiple opinions, verifying credentials, and reporting suspicious activities, we can protect ourselves and our loved ones from falling victim to scams like the Woodchucking Scam.

Other Scams

While the provided information specifically mentions Joseph’s involvement in the Woodchucking Scam, it does not provide details about other scams he may have been involved in. It’s important to note that scammers often engage in multiple fraudulent activities, targeting different individuals or using different schemes.

Without further specific information or evidence, it would be speculative to make claims about other scams Joseph may have participated in.

There are various scams that share similarities with the Woodchucking Scam or target vulnerable individuals in a similar manner. Here are a few examples:

  1. Home Repair Scams: Similar to the Woodchucking Scam, scammers may approach homeowners, particularly the elderly, offering to perform repairs or improvements on their properties. They may overcharge for shoddy work, demand upfront payments, or claim that urgent repairs are necessary when they are not.
  2. Contractor Fraud: Scammers pose as contractors, promising high-quality work or offering discounted rates. They may request large upfront payments and then disappear without completing the agreed-upon work. In some cases, they may perform subpar or unnecessary repairs, exploiting homeowners’ lack of knowledge.
  3. Impersonation Scams: Scammers may impersonate professionals such as electricians, plumbers, or HVAC technicians. They offer services door-to-door, claiming that immediate repairs or inspections are required. They use persuasive tactics to convince victims to pay for unnecessary work or equipment.
  4. Emergency Scams: Scammers target vulnerable individuals, often the elderly, by posing as family members in distress or as law enforcement officers. They create a sense of urgency, claiming that immediate financial assistance is needed for bail, medical bills, or other emergency situations.
  5. Insurance Fraud: Scammers exploit individuals by offering fraudulent insurance policies or exaggerating damages to file false claims. They may target vulnerable individuals who are seeking affordable coverage or are unfamiliar with the insurance process.

It’s essential to remain vigilant and skeptical when approached by individuals offering services or requesting money. Always verify the identities and credentials of service providers, seek multiple quotes or opinions, and be cautious of high-pressure tactics or demands for upfront payments.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the Woodchucking Scam?
A: The Woodchucking Scam is a fraudulent scheme where scammers deceive homeowners, particularly the elderly, into believing that their property requires urgent and expensive repairs. The scammers often lack genuine expertise and either perform subpar work or never complete the repairs.

Q: How do scammers target victims in the Woodchucking Scam?
A: Scammers typically target vulnerable individuals, such as senior citizens living alone, by approaching them and offering their services as skilled woodworkers or repair workers. They employ aggressive tactics, create a sense of urgency, and manipulate victims’ trust to convince them to pay for unnecessary or exaggerated repairs.

Q: What are some warning signs of the Woodchucking Scam?
A: Warning signs of the Woodchucking Scam may include aggressive solicitation, exaggerated claims about the urgency of repairs, demands for large upfront payments, lack of proper credentials or references, and inconsistent or subpar workmanship.

Q: How can I protect myself from falling victim to the Woodchucking Scam?
A: To protect yourself from this scam, remain skeptical of unsolicited services, verify the credentials of individuals offering repairs, seek multiple opinions and estimates, avoid making large upfront payments, and conduct thorough research before engaging in any financial transactions.

Q: What should I do if I suspect I’ve been targeted by the Woodchucking Scam?
A: If you suspect you’ve been targeted or have fallen victim to the Woodchucking Scam, report the incident to your local law enforcement agency and relevant consumer protection authorities. They can investigate the matter and provide guidance on next steps.

Q: Are there any legal consequences for individuals involved in the Woodchucking Scam?
A: Yes, individuals involved in the Woodchucking Scam can face legal consequences. Perpetrators can be charged with various offenses, such as fraud, theft, and exploitation of vulnerable individuals. Once convicted, they may face imprisonment, fines, and restitution payments.

Q: How can I spread awareness about the Woodchucking Scam?
A: You can help spread awareness about the Woodchucking Scam by sharing information with your family, friends, and community. Utilize social media platforms, local community organizations, and neighborhood watch groups to raise awareness about this scam and provide tips on how to avoid falling victim to it.