Door to door scams
to door scams are one of the biggest crimes against seniors,
especially as the weather gets nicer.
artists specifically target older people that own their own homes
and live in middle income neighborhoods. There is more money
here than in lower income neighborhoods but there is also a lack
of coordinated services from contracted service professionals.
Detective Mark Rogers of the
Greenville IN police department said these scammers are targeting
seniors in particular. They try and sell things like home
repair, driveway repair, chimney cleaning, gutter cleaning and
tree trimming,” Rogers said, noting that selling door-to-door
requires a license in many municipalities, and home repair almost
always requires a license.
“They first try for cash, but
even if they cannot get that, they try for a check that is
personally made out. Then they just go right down to the
bank and cash the check,” he said. "You'll never see
In one recent case, a senior
resident agreed to have his front porch replaced and agreed to pay
for materials after the job was started. So the scammer
complied by using a sledge hammer to break up the porch, collected
the money to go get materials, but never returned.
“But don’t let them
intimidate you,” Rogers said. "People who are perpetrating
a scam can be forceful and try to talk residents into paying with
cash or with a check up front", Rogers continued.
They will also often threaten the
resident with legal action or threaten to tear up the property if
the senior doesn't pay.
In one North Carolina case, the
contractor didn't quote an amount to the older home owner for
cutting up two 8 inch around and 30 foot trees that had come down
during a hurricane. But when the job was finished, they'd
left all the cuttings strewn across the yard and handed the woman
a bill for $14,000. She of course refused to pay until they
threatened her property and to sue her.
Fortunately in this case, the
woman called relatives who called the police, and the perpetrators
were arrested before they could even cash the check.
This is not always the case
however. In many cases where an older person is the victim
of a scam, they are too embarrassed to admit they were swindled,
and the crime is never even reported.
With tree trimming, the scammer
might break a tree branch off of a tree in someone’s yard and
then bring the tree branch to the door to convince the resident
they need their branches trimmed immediately, he said.
Another trick is to tell the
resident they need to have their chimney cleaned yearly, and then
just spread some soot around to make it look like the chimney was
cleaned, Rogers explained.
Scammers will often use cheap or
inappropriate materials if they do any work at all. One
senior recently reported a scam where the salesperson promised to
resurface the driveway for $900, a very nice sounding price to the
senior who had recently been quoted over $2000 for the same
thing. Not being able to get outside however, the senior
couldn't tell that the scammer had actually spread used motor oil
over the driveway to give it a dark look, rather than resurface
The affinity scam
Another approach is called 'the
affinity approach'. The scammer gets the names of several
neighborhood residents and then goes to other houses to tell them
about the supposed work they've done, and how much the other
people liked it.
The theory is that people assume
that if the work was done for the neighbors and they are happy,
then that qualifies as a recommendation. Never mind the fact
that this supposed work and the satisfaction is being reported by
the contractor, not the neighbor.
In some cases, this is taken one
step further by giving two names that don't exist on a long
street, several blocks away. Knowing that nobody knows
everyone, the resident assumes these are simply names they just
Tips to avoid door-to-door
1) Do not do business with door
to door sales people unless you can verify that they have a local
office. Sure, there are legitimate businesses that don't
have an office, but remember that this is your money they are
talking about and you need to have reasonable proof of the
validity of the person at the door.
2) Contractors should always be
able to prove that they have a contractor's license. If
someone cannot provide a license, don't do business with
them. If they say they don't need one for the type of work
they do, don't do business with them until you know this for a
3) Get references that are at
least several months old and call them. If someone has a bad
record, references are hard for them to come up with. Be
sure that you call the references on your phone and make the phone
calls in your own time. You want to be sure that you are
contacting real people, not partners of the scammer.
4) Don't do business right on the
spot. If someone tells you that you have a problem with your
property that needs to be fixed, get a second opinion from several
other contractors. There is nothing so urgent about your
property that it must be handled right now. Anyone that
tells you otherwise is probably attempting to scam you into a
project that you don't need. If you see that you need a
repair, that is one thing. If they are trying to scare you
into it, that's another.
5) Don't be pressured to sign
right now or lose the "fantastic deal".
This is a common tactic of scammers to stop you from checking them
out, looking for a better price, or giving you time to reconsider
your decision. High pressure salespeople should be
avoided. You simply don't need to deal with them and you can
often get just as good a price later as you can right now.
6) Don't make the check out in
the name of a person, no matter what kind of deal they
offer. Many scammers will use this tactic to make it easier
for them to cash the check. Many people (and even legitimate
business owners) will ask you to make the check out in their own
name or to pay in cash so that they can avoid paying taxes.
While the lower price might be a temptation, you can also look
tainted if the work isn't done or isn't done to your requirements.
7) Remember that a receipt is
worth nothing unless the business is valid and reputable.
Scammers will give you any receipt that you want, but if they are
gone, that receipt is worthless.
8) Never pay for services in
cash. Cash can be spent immediately and is not
traceable. It is hard for anyone to just cash a check made
out to a business right out of your account and they must
generally be deposited. This means that you at least have a
few hours to stop payment on the check if you find something is
wrong. Banks also have consumer fraud measures and can often
track someone who has committed a fraud.
A better option yet if the
business provides it, is to pay via credit card. Your credit
card service will allow you to dispute a charge even up to 30 days
after the charge is made. Obviously though, most scammers
don't take credit cards.
9) Don't be afraid to offend
someone by not doing business with them. Scammers will
pretend that you are personally insulting their credibility and
honesty if you want to check them out. They have a lot of
well-rehearsed psychological tricks that they employ to make you
feel like a heel because you want to exercise reasonable business
procedures. Assume that anyone that acts offended because
you want to check them out, is probably nothing more than a
thief. Get them out of your house and don't deal with them
for any reason, even if they apologize.
Real business people want to do
business with you and understand if they haven't met your comfort
level yet. They aren't afraid to prove themselves and they
deal with this all day long. Only scammers get offended at
being checked out.
10) If you don't feel
comfortable, walk away. It's just that simple. Trust
your initial reactions and if the person isn't credible, if their
story doesn't seem right, if the deal is too good, if they are
high pressured, if they won't listen, if they tell you something
is wrong but don't want other opinions on it, just don't do
business with them for any reason.
11) Just because the person seems
nice and honest, doesn't mean they are. Scammers aren't very
successful if they look and sound like liars. Scammers
are very good at tricking people and they have been known to trick
smarter and dumber people than you.
12) Make sure that you sign an
agreement and that everything you agree to is in that agreement.
13) Before you sign a contract,
give it at least a day to think it over. Call friends and
relatives and pass the idea by them. Doing so doesn't mean
you aren't intelligent. It means that you are cautious and a
14) If you smell a rat, call your
local BBB and police department to ask if there have been any
complaints of this type or against this company. Even if
they don't have a report against this person, it doesn't mean they
are legitimate. All it means is that they haven't been
a) There is nothing so urgent
that it cannot be dealt with tomorrow. If you didn't know
you needed it an hour ago, you don't have to have it right away
b) There is no deal so good that
it cannot be achieved tomorrow.
c) There are plenty of businesses
that want your business. The person in front of you is just
one of them.
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