Front Royal man warns of construction scam
FRONT ROYAL — A local excavation company owner was in the midst of fleshing out a work order for a property in town when he figured the client was just a scammer trying to swindle him for some money.
He didn’t take the bait, and now he’s trying to spread the word.
Shane Heater owns Cobblestone Excavation, in Front Royal. On Monday, a man who identified himself as “Mark Tepstra” texted Heater from an Englewood, New Jersey, phone number and asked him how much it would cost for him to remove the trees from his property at 123 Gloucester Road.
According to online county records, John M. Brown owns the property, not Tepstra.
“People just need to be made aware of this stuff,” Heater said.
On Tuesday, Heater checked on the trees requested for removal from the property and quoted a price of $9,600. While there, however, he noticed Beth Medved Waller of Team Waller Real Estate and an old friend, was listing the house for sale.
When Heater gave his quote to Tepstra, the texter then offered a strange request. According to text messages provided by Heater, “Mark” said he only paid 98 percent of the home’s value to the former owner. He asked Heater to charge $9,000 from his credit card as a down payment, divert $6,000 of it to the former owner’s account, and to keep $3,000, with the rest to be paid after the job.
He then told Shane to charge three different credit cards, one of which was a number tied to California, the other tied to Texas, and no known origin on the third.
Heater has since contacted the Front Royal Police Department, which is handling the case. Officer Bradley Pennington said he believes Tepstra is a scammer, though there is not enough of a lead to warrant an active investigation
Tepstra could not be reached for this article. However, Pennington said the number is likely a Google texting number with no real phone servce.
On Wednesday, Heater said he wants construction companies of any shape or size to be careful with whom they do business. He said he’s not sure of the legal ramifications had he accepted the (possibly stolen) credit cards, or removed trees from a property he had no legal right to access.
Tree replacement can cost as much as $10,000, Heater said, which would accompany legal and court costs, had he not been careful.
Pennington advised buyers to be wary of strangers selling anything that seems too good to be true.
“The best rule of thumb is, if you weren’t out looking for product or service in the first place and somebody comes over and offers it to you, don’t accept it,” he said. “Find it yourself.”
Tepstra kept asking when Heater would run the cards and close the transaction. Heater then referred him to Officer Bradley Pennington with the Front Royal Police Department, saying Pennington was his accountant.
His last line: “He has all the charges you need.”
Contact staff writer Jake Zuckerman at 540-465-5137 ext. 152, or firstname.lastname@example.org