If you are a native New Englander, you know that when we get warm days in November we end up paying for them in the coming months.
At this time of year, many homeowners are considering last minute winterizations and preparations for the coming season. Enter the home improvement scammers. This particular breed of criminal seeks to take advantage of those who need completion of last-minute home projects only to find out that most contractors are fully booked with customers. The scarcity of contractors opens the door for price gouging and for fraudulent operators.
In police parlance, they case out neighborhoods prior to contacting potential victims. The contact may be by phone, email, text message, or by a knock on the door. Targeting requires very little effort; a simple check of town records for property and building permits allows access to the home records and contact information.
Quite often, the criminal will simply offer to inspect your roof or heating system and report the existence of problems urgently needing correction before winter weather arrives. (Once it arrives, the moves to snow and ice removal).
If you are in need of some work, here are a few tips for keeping safe:
• Get recommendations from people you know. Before agreeing to any work, ask to see and obtain copies of any necessary licenses, as well as proof of insurance and references. Be sure to check that these are legitimate.
• Conduct an online search of the business including the word “complaint” or “problems.” You should also contact the Better Business Bureau or Chamber of Commerce asking if there are any issues with the contractor.
• Make payments by check or credit card. Never pay with cash, gift cards, money orders, or online money transfers. Only pay when the work is completed. If the contractor requires prepayment for the purchase of special order materials, make the purchase yourself and have the items delivered to your home.
• Put all promises in writing. If you find yourself being victimized in a home improvement scam, report the situation to local law enforcement.
Another scam appearing more frequently comes by way of an email message offering a pricey product, service, or gift card for the completion of a “simple” survey. These offers appear to be from major companies such as Walmart, Walgreens, Kohls, Home Depot or even a bank.
On a recent day, I received over 25 of these offers, some of which displayed a fine print disclaimer noting that the survey company is not affiliated with the company named in the promotion.
The big question: is this a scam? Maybe yes, maybe no (but most likely something that will not reward you for completing a survey). Some questions to ask:
• Have you ever done business with the company promoting the reward?
• What part of this offer benefits the company since companies survive by selling products or services?
A couple other things to understand:
• When you click on the link in the email message, you instantly provide the marketing company with you town of residence, the type of computer or tablet you use, and details about your computer (remember, they already have your email address).
• The promised prize valued at a specific dollar amount is often an offer to purchase discounted magazine subscriptions or discounted products you may not even want; these surveys usually display “testimonials” praising the opportunity. Quite often, these same testimonials appear in other promotions and are attributed to different people.
• While most of these solicitations may not be scams, they are definitely phishing attacks to obtain your personal information.
Are you or someone you know fallen victim to fraud or were you successful in avoiding a scam? Email me with the details. One of the best ways to fight fraud is to make it public so others can be helped. Questions? Comments? Email me: [email protected]
Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and coordinator of the AARP Vermont Fraud Watch Network who produces the CATV program, Mr. Scammer, distributed by GNAT-TV in Sunderland, Vt.