Driving Off With the… Driveway?

Apopka, Florida, is a suburb of Orlando, about a half-an-hour drive from Walt Disney World (here’s a map). Its name comes from a Seminole word meaning “potato-eating place” according to its Wikipedia entry, but beyond that, there isn’t much that is all that interesting about the town of about 55,000 residents. It’s just a regular American town. People live there, work there, go to school there, and of course, come home to find that their driveways have been stolen.

No, no, that last part isn’t true. Only one family had their driveway stolen.

In May 2019, a single mother named Amanda Brochu purchased a home in Apopka for about $175,000, according to Zillow. Four and a half years later, she decided it was time to move, and entered into a contract to purchase another home. That sale, though, was contingent on her selling the place she purchased in Apopka — and Brochu believed she was in a good position to sell. As the listing noted, the house had a new roof and the home wasn’t subject to the whims of a homeowner’s association (or HOA); Brochu’s realtor saw these as attractive to would-be buyers. The home went up for sale in early December of 2023.

Soon thereafter, Brochu and her son began receiving odd visitors. Contractors were stopping by to take measurements and, generally, get a better feel for the house, as if they were about to do construction. That’s not that unusual when homes are on the market, as would-be buyers may want to make changes to the home, but typically that happens (if at all) only after those buyers first tour the place. And that hadn’t happened in this situation. As WFTV9, the local TV station, reported, Brochu “confronted one of [the contractors], who said a man by the name of ‘Andre’ reached out to him to ask about a driveway replacement quote. The contractor said Andre claimed to be the landlord and gave Brochu Andre’s phone number. Text messages supplied by the contractor show Andre received a quote for $7,200 to replace the driveway and agreed to the price. However, Andre said he couldn’t meet the contractor to drop off the deposit.” 

That contractor moved on, but another, apparently, accepted “Andre’s” bid — because as WSVN News in Miami reported, a week later “an image from Brochu’s doorbell camera captured a bulldozer tearing out the concrete and hauling it away.” Someone had stolen the Brochu’s driveway, leaving nothing but a dirt path, as seen below.

And that was a huge problem for Brochu. Selling a home is difficult and stressful enough in normal conditions; doing so without a driveway — especially when you need to sell in order to buy your new home! — is an impossible task. Brochu turned to the media for help, starting a GoFundMe to help her crowdsource donations to repave the space. That media attention led to a solution — in more ways than one.

Everyone — Brochu, her real estate agent, and the press that covered the story all had the same thought: why, exactly, would someone steal a driveway? Driveways are typically made of asphalt, and while it’s recyclable, it doesn’t make economic sense to bulldoze a driveway just to get the asphalt. Tearing up a driveway of that size was a multi-thousand-dollar job to begin with, after all. For similar reasons, this seemed like more than a prank. Someone was making money off this, but it wasn’t clear who — or how. 

As of this writing, the specific “who” is unknown, but we have a pretty good idea of the “how.” It’s called an “overpayment scam,” as a general contractor who got in touch with WFTV9. The scam artist pretends to be the property owner and hires a contractor to do a job — for example, replacing a driveway. The malfeasor writes the contractor a check for the work performed, but “accidentally” overpays by a significant amount; for example, they may write a $5,500 check for a job quoted at $5,000. A day or so later, the scammer asks the contractor for a $500 refund via Venmo or the like. And, per WFTV9, the check the scammer wrote is no good: “Shortly after the contractor sends the cash and occasionally after work begins, the scammer’s original check will bounce from the contractor’s bank account.” Of course, the criminal here needs to hide his actual identity (and doesn’t want his driveway being wrecked), so he needs a patsy — and a person selling their home seems like an easy victim.

Brochu, thankfully, didn’t turn out to be a victim in the end, here. Her GoFundMe raised enough money to cover a new driveway and then some, but the money won’t go toward that; after news of her story spread, “a Cox Media Group radio sponsor learned about her story and offered to install a new driveway at no cost to her,” per Business Insider. (Brochu is donating the GoFundMe proceeds to a community nonprofit.) And now, her real estate listing is even better: it leads with the sentence “NEW DRIVEWAY being installed before closing!”

 

Bonus fact: Asphalt, as noted above, is recyclable. In fact, according to SustainableBusiness.com, it’s the most recycled product in the United States. Per one study, “the asphalt industry remains the country’s most diligent recycler with more than 99 percent of reclaimed asphalt pavement being put back to use.”

From the Archives: Slow Drip: A really cool — but very sloowwwwww — experiment involving asphalt.