Door to door scams
Door to door scams are one of the biggest crimes against seniors, especially as the weather gets nicer.
Scams against seniors
Scam 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 them again."
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 it.
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 don't know.
Tips to avoid door-to-door scammers:
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 fact.
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 savvy shopper.
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 reported... YET!
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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