LONGBOAT KEY, Fla. (WFLA) — Longboat Key police say a window blind installer has been stealing jewelry from area homes, and most of the victims don’t even realize they were robbed.
Longboat Key Police say it all started in April with a 911 call from a resident.
A couple inside a condo had recently purchased some window blinds from Lowe’s and a man came to install them. The next day, they discovered a $25,000 wedding ring was missing.
Police later learned the subcontractor had stolen earrings from another home that are worth about $7,000.
“Our person has confessed to stealing it over here, he just doesn’t remember where he stole it from,” said Sgt. Robert Bourque.
But this man went on a spree. He confessed to stealing tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of jewelry from area homes and trading it all in for drugs.
“He would only pick out a piece of jewelry out of a group of jewelry so they may not even know its missing,” said Sgt. Bourque.
The suspect was a subcontractor hired by Lowe’s. The retailer released this statement:
We were very concerned to learn about these incidents and that some of our customers may have been impacted. We take this matter very seriously and are working closely with the authorities to help with their investigation. This individual is not an employee of Lowe’s. He was employed by an independent third party. The investigation is ongoing, and as a result, we’re unable to comment further at this time.”
The use of subcontractors is common, and all of these victims bought their blinds from the popular retailer with the expectation that these contractors are vetted. So how can you protect yourself?
The Better Business Bureau says you should find out if the subcontractor is licensed, bonded and insured. That way, you’re protected if they steal or break something.
All business names should be registered with the State of Florida Division of Corporations.
BBB also says insurance protects you if the workers cause an accident, such as forgetting to shut off a faucet or losing a key. Verify the company has personal and property damage liability insurance and workers’ compensation insurance by getting certificates of insurance with you listed as the certificate holder. You can also verify proof of workers’ comp insurance with the Florida Department of Financial Services. Make sure that all workers on the job site are covered.
The BBB adds you should note the dollar values and coverage limits. Is the dollar value on the bond or policy high enough to cover your house? Also check to see that the company has its own workers’ compensation insurance policy. If they do not, and an employee is injured while working in your home, they could sue you and your homeowner’s insurance policy.
Also, find out the names of the employees coming over and ask the company if they do background checks.
BBB suggests that you ask the company: Do the employees/subcontractors undergo a background check? Are they trained and certified? Will they be wearing name tags and uniforms on the job? Are company vehicles clearly marked?
Dean Kuehr learned the hard way. Last year after a contractor came to his home, some jewelry vanished.
“We really didn’t notice it for a week or so after that person left,” said Kuehr.
So he has some practical advice.
“When you’re having somebody you don’t know coming into your house, you just play it safe, put everything away,” said Kuehr.
Police are not identifying the suspect. They say he worked for Precise Blinds for about six months and was recently fired after this came to light.
They’re obtaining warrants for his arrest and are hopeful to have him in custody soon.
Precise Blinds did not respond to News Channel 8’s request for comment.
Police are urging anyone around Sarasota, Manatee County and the greater Tampa Bay area who recently bought blinds from Lowe’s to check their jewelry. If you’re missing any, call Longboat Key Police Sgt. Robert Bourque at 941-316-1973.
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