Couple in Their Late 80s Loses Nearly $200K in Home Repair Scam

Authorities are warning seniors who live on their own to be aware that now is the peak time of the year for this type of scam, referred to as "woodchucking"

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A Montgomery County couple in their late 80s are reaching out through pain and some embarrassment to warn others about a sophisticated scam that cost them nearly $200,000.

Authorities are warning senior citizens who live alone in their homes to be aware that now is the peak time of the year for this kind of scam, referred to as "woodchucking." The scammers, often people with little home repair experience, con victims into believing their houses need expensive emergency fixes which are either unnecessary or never done.

The husband and wife, who did not want to be identified to protect their privacy, said the scammers got inside when they told them they’d worked on their home before. 

The man who came to their door in Silver Spring, Maryland, that day in November 2019 said his name was Joseph Swanson. 

“He was very aggressive,” one of the victims said. 

The man’s real name is Joseph Checklick, and the Culpeper, Virginia, man will now spend six and a half years in prison for systematically victimizing the couple.

It’s his third conviction for home improvement fraud in Montgomery County.

Prosecutors said Checklick, along with Travis Jenkins and Nicholas Shonabin (who is currently being sought by police), took the couple’s money for repairs that were ultimately never done. 

Other services were unnecessary, like hacking huge limbs off of a healthy tree of great sentimental value to the couple. The tree was where their children had a tree house and carved their initials decades ago. 

“There’s a special place in hell for people that steal from individuals like this,” Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said.

He added that the fleecing went beyond home repairs. One of the defendants allegedly pretended to be sick, and the victims paid the hospital bill. 

Over the months, the men even brought their wives and children to the home.

“I remember once that the kids were coloring on my dining room table with me,” one of the victims said. 

An anonymous call to Montgomery County police brought Det. Cindy Miranda to the home in April 2020, weeks after the coronavirus pandemic began. She began the investigation while wearing an N-95 mask and gloves.

“As we get the bank records back and we start making spreadsheets of every check that was written... It’s enormous. It’s really upsetting,” Miranda said. 

The victims in this case are educated world travelers who contribute to their community, but they still fell for Checklick’s empty promises. Experts said knowing about the scams is the best way to avoid becoming a victim.

On June 15, the Montgomery County Elder and Vulnerable Adult Task Force will hold a safety forum at the Holiday Park Senior Center in Silver Spring. It takes place from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and will also be livestreamed. You can call 240-777-4999 during business hours to register.

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