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ROCKVILLE, Md., (WUSA9) -- "They poured concrete here, cut the branch off, $2,000," says Eric Barr.

The contractor originally told his 80 year old aunt, Selma Newton Boone, that it would cost $700 to trim the branch from her tree.

"He was unlicensed, didn't do much work and basically stole an extra $1300 from her, says Eric Friedman. He is with the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection.

The Rockville homeowner is one of many who live in Montgomery County and other jurisdictions who fall victim to this financial crime.

County officials, along with law enforcement agencies from around the region, announced they are teaming up to crackdown on these fly-by-night con artists.

"Our message is simple. If you try to rip off our residents, we will track you down and prosecute you to the fullest extinct of the law," says Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett.

The police department estimates that unlicensed tree trimmers or "wood-chucks-in-a-truck" account for more than one million dollars in consumer theft each year.

In many cases, the work is poorly performed or abandoned and the homeowner is left with an incomplete project and out of their money.

"We were able to track the man down. He plead guilty to being unlicensed. He was ordered by the court to return the money, pay a fine, to stay away and put on probation," Friedman says.

Eric Barr says, "Bottom line, be careful, use your common sense. If you see any red flags, they're there for a reason."

Don't be an unlicensed contractor's next victim

It's key to check to see if a tree service is licensed before you hire them.

Get estimates from three contractors and a written contract for any work you authorize.

You can always check with the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection or the Better Business Bureau.

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