More Home Improvement Scams in the News

Spring is scam time. Many state consumer protection agencies are issuing warnings to the public.

The Oklahoma Attorney General’s office is advising seniors to be careful of door-to-door home improvement contractors and loan schemes that require up-front fees.
Mallery Nagle, Edmond Sun

In Tennessee, the sheriff’s office has warned about traveling con artists being back in the area. They tend to drive plain, unmarked white utility vans. “They usually get out when the weather breaks, when they can get out and do the work outside …”, according to the sheriff.

“It’s not good work in that it won’t last,” Burns said. “They’ll mix materials together that the rain will wash away. They’ve always used diesel fuel to mix with silver paint to paint a barn roof. You can drive around and spot a barn roof, you’ve got silver and black streaks where the rain has washed it down.”

Burns says the same hold true for driveway sealer. “That’s what they do to make the material go further,” Burns said. “The diesel fuel will mix with the driveway sealer, and it looks good. It’s shiny and pretty, and you know, when it rains it’s gone.”

The Ohio Consumer Protection department expects to receive 25,000 home improvement scam complaints in 2007. Warning signs to look out for:

  • scare tactics – always get a second opinion
  • the bait and switch – beware the price that suddenly goes up
  • the “model home” discount
  • the “referral sale” discount – this is illegal in Ohio & other states

Read more at The Advocate, Newark Ohio.

Here is a great example of the bait and switch. You receive a coupon in the mail for a low price for duct cleaning but the actual bill is $1000 plus, usually for unnecessary repairs, such as claiming you have asbestos when it’s actually just fiberglass.

Another home improvement scam example? In this story, the scam artist posed as sales representative for a real renovation company; collecting money on behalf of the contractor without his knowledge.

For more info, see my previous post The Current State of Home Improvement Scams.

The Current State of Home Improvement Scams

“… fraud is nothing more than the skin of the truth stuffed with a lie.”
Elliot Minkman, reformed con man

Here are a few current Home Improvement scams to be aware of and obviously avoid.

The Home Improvement Grant Scam. You are notified by mail that you are eligible to receive a Federal Grant for home improvement, medical bills, or other expense – the first installment cheque may even be included. Or perhaps you see an ad for such a grant in a local newspaper. All you have to do is call the 1-800 number to claim the grant, it’s “free” to apply. Once you get on the phone and start giving your information (including license and social security numbers, even account numbers for financial institutions), you acquire extra “service charges and handling fees”. No matter what the pitch, the goal is to get you to pay that “one time” handling fee

Sounds too good to be true. So why do people get taken in? I see two factors. First, the pose as a “government representative” causes people to drop their guard. Government rep = credible authority figure. More importantly, it’s the lure of “free money from the government”. We’ve all heard about it, so that’s the “truth” that makes the lie persuasive.

The Federal Trade Commission issued an alert on this late last year. You can read more on combating such scams on the FTC website – Free Government Grants: Don’t Take Them For Grant-ed.

Home Improvement Contractor Scams. Seniors are often the target of these “door to door” scams. Professional scam artists (as opposed to real, hardworking contractors) may knock on your door offering to do repairs that may or may not need to be done. They may offer to fix or redo your driveway for a substantial fee but actually only paint it black and leave. Or arrange to do a roof repair, take a deposit, never to return.

They can seem very convincing. In one “worst case” news report, the scam artists posing as roofers went so far as scale the roof to bring down a shingle to prove to the 80 year old prospect that the roof needed repair. So she trusted them, let them inside … only to be robbed at gunpoint.

Obviously all the usual “rules” about hiring contractors should apply. So why are seniors more vulnerable? There’s a lot of information on this topic … and it may all be relevant. But at the bottom of it all, I think it’s because the average senior may not be able to physically do as much as he or she used to. In that way, seniors can be more dependent on help from other people and good help is hard to find. When it shows up at your front door, well why not??

Read more about how to complain if you are the target of home improvement or other fraud.

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