It is spring and many people are contemplating improvements to their homes. Con artists, pretending to be legitimate contractors, are out in the nice weather too, prowling through neighborhoods, looking for their next victim. Often they target senior citizens, who are more likely to be home than younger people. Many of these scammers have the perception they can easily fool the elderly and they also believe this demographic has more money, perhaps even cash stored right in their homes. These criminals would like to trick the unsuspecting out of as much of their savings as possible.
A typical modus operandi includes spotting people working in yards and approaching them or knocking uninvited on doors. The fake contractor then launches a sales pitch. Common scams involve driveway paving, roof repair, gutter cleaning and mulching. If the homeowner pays for the work, the con artists often do an inadequate job. For instance, they may use materials to pave a driveway that wash away in a good storm or they may hammer nails on the roof without actually achieving anything productive. These criminals often leave a home in worse shape after completing their “repairs” than it was before they started.
According to the National Consumers League, signs that the repair person offering to work on your house is actually a crook may include one of the following:
- They say they were doing work in the neighborhood and have “extra material” they didn’t use.
- They demand full payment up front, often requesting it in cash.
- They are unable to show proper identification, such as a permit allowing them to do this type of work.
- They offer a special deal only available that day.
- They try to pressure the homeowner into buying their services.
In a spin on this scam, one “contractor” may offer to go with the homeowner to inspect whatever needs repairing. In the meantime, his associate steals valuables from the home.
How to avoid becoming a victim
If you need to have repairs made to your house, consider taking the following steps:
1) Refuse to purchase services from contractors who show up uninvited at your house.
2) Ask for recommendations from friends or people you trust.
3) Shop around for a good price. If you are having major work done, get several quotes in writing.
4) Google the company to see if there is negative information about it online. Also, check it out with the Better Business Bureau®.
5) Make sure you receive a signed contract that includes your requirements, and be certain you understand it.
6) If a contractor pressures you to buy his services, look elsewhere for your home repair needs.
7) Remember that if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Tips for law enforcement investigating home improvement scams
- Familiarize yourself with state and local laws against home repair fraud.
- If you receive a report of this type of crime in a neighborhood, be aware that the fraudsters may still be active in that area.
- Make the elderly person reporting the crime feel comfortable and unashamed for being victimized.
- Post information on social media channels about any ongoing criminal activity, including composite sketches or photographs of perpetrators. Other people may then share the posts and spread the word to hopefully prevent additional victimization.
- Look for ties that the perpetrators may have to gypsies or other organized crime groups.
- Provide victims with information about these types of crimes so they can avoid them in the future.
Photo credit: 143730127 Copyright STILLFX, 2014 Used under license from Shutterstock.com