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.

This entry was posted on Monday, February 19th, 2007 at 1:22 pm and is filed under Consumer Action, Consumer Beware, Hiring a Contractor, News & Analysis, Scams. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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

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