Elderly resident with hurricane damage scammed by unlicensed contractor, Venice police say

Bay Indies was one of the hardest-hit areas in Venice from Hurricane Ian. Police along with code enforcement are making daily trips around the park, keeping an eye out for residents to keep them from being targeted by scammers.

"Everywhere you look there’s damage or destruction, and you just know it will go on for a really long time," said Suzanne Arena.

She and Rob Wright are watching out for their neighbors.

"If I don’t see a car I don’t recognize, I’m walking right over to it, just to make sure," Wright said.

Most of their neighborhood has damage from the storm.

Venice police said that has attracted unlicensed contractors and scammers.

"Unfortunately there’s going to be bad actors that come into post-disaster regions trying to take advantage of that situation," Captain Eric Hill told FOX 13.

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Hill said 36-year-old Eric Ziko of Orlando is one of them. 

According to police, Ziko presented himself as the owner of E and Z U.S. Roofing.

"He offered his services, claimed he was a licensed contractor for roofing here in Florida and was going to do that for $47,000," Hill said.

Police said Ziko convinced an elderly Bay Indies resident to give him a check for 50% of the work as a deposit.

A Venice police investigator who saw Ziko got the feeling something wasn't right.

After talking to him and doing a little research, the investigator learned Ziko was an unlicensed contractor.

"Whether or not he was going to do it, we will never know," Hill said. "Thankfully the homeowner is not going to have to do any more business with this individual."

RELATED: Hurricane Ian relief efforts continue in Southwest Florida as residents begin returning home

Police said they were able to get the check and stop payment on it, but said other victims often aren't as lucky.

Ziko ended up in the Sarasota County jail, but officers warn others like him are bound to follow.

Authorities said you should first run the name of businesses or individuals through myfloridalicense.com.

"You also want to check references. You want to make sure that this is a reputable business that does quality work. To be licensed in another state is not sufficient. They do not understand Florida building practices and needs for this area," Hill explained.

Meanwhile, Venice police and neighbors like Arena and Wright will continue keeping watch.

"There's good people everywhere and there’s bad people everywhere," Wright said. "The police in Venice are driving around and they’re catching the bad guys and I hope they spend a lot of time in jail."

To check the status of businesses or contractors visit The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations website at MyFloridaLicense.com.