Two Virginia men were arrested Tuesday, charged with leaving "city slicker" customers more than a few logs short of a full cord of firewood.
Howard County police say Audrey Moore, 56, of Culpeper, and Michael Todd Dyer, 37, of Rixeyville were released on personal recognizance. They were charged with theft at a home on Knighthood Lane in Owen Brown after allegedly selling a plainclothes officer about 15 percent of an actual cord of wood for $110, the average price for a cord.
The pair could face a maximum penalty of 18 months in jail and a $500 fine, police said.
A cord, 128 cubic feet, is the legal measure by which firewood can be sold. A cord is 4 feet wide, 4 feet high and 8 feet long. Authorities say a cord of wood will not fit in a standard pick-up truck. Most legitimate dealers use larger vehicles, like small dump trucks, to haul and unload cords of firewood.
Police investigated the sales after several residents, who had paid for loads of firewood, complained to law officials and to the Department of Agriculture's weights and measures section in Annapolis.
"We've had problems with these types of vendors," said Louis Straub, chief of the weights and measurements section.
"Usually they stack the wood in your yard, get your money and are gone before you realize something's wrong," Mr. Straub said.
Police said "city-slickers," suburban residents who aren't accustomed to buying firewood, aren't usually aware of the exact size of a cord. The naivete is no secret.
That's why each year, agriculture officials say scam artists hit the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan region and other suburban areas in Maryland.
The fraudulent wood dealers frequently pass themselves off as experts in firewood, convincing residents they are getting a good deal, Mr. Straub said.
The wood dealers often move quickly from door to door very in large suburban areas. The scam artists hardly ever go to areas "out in the country" where residents are more familiar with firewood measurements, Mr. Straub said.
To avoid being deceived, police say residents should get the deliverer's name, phone number, license number and a receipt. The customer also should be home when the firewood is delivered and should measure the wood while the seller is there.
For information regarding the sale or purchase of firewood, call the state bureau of weights and measurements at 410-841-5790.