Door-to-door deception: stay vigilant for common summertime home repair, landscaping, and security system scams

For many of us, Winter 2017 was a cold that wouldn’t quit (and here in our Nation’s Capital, Spring 2018 has been a total wash).  With Summer Solstice less than a month away, we can finally trade the jackets and galoshes for sandals, sunglasses, and a tall glass of iced tea.

But shorts and flip-flops aren’t the only things making their 2018 debuts right about now: just like mosquitoes, you can expect seasonal scammers to start buzzing around front porches near you.

And while phone, mail, and email schemes are snow, sleet, and rain-proof, summer sunshine offers scammers yet another opportunity to bilk seniors out of money–one that can be incredibly lucrative if they’re willing to step up and ring the doorbell.

Door-to-door scamming uses the warm weather to take advantage of those thinking about big summertime renovation projects, like repairing the roof or fence, resealing the driveway, or installing a brand new security system.

It’s also a time of year homeowners are spending a lot more time out in their yards–especially retirees on weekdays when neighbors are off at work.  These scammers can screen neighborhoods, easily identify their preferred victims while they’re weeding their flowerbeds, and approach the victim right in their yard to make a high-pressure sales pitch.

As with many scams, senior victims are frequently ideal targets.  Imagine a victim living alone–someone who may have health, cognitive, or mobility challenges–being approached by several people incredibly eager to make a sale.  People of all ages struggle with aggressive sales situations, but seniors can be especially vulnerable.

The scammer can offer anything from fence repair to tree trimming to house painting or siding repair.  He might offer some kind of free inspection service for home security or pests.  Recently, many of these scammers even claim to be with a utility company offering some kind of new product, upgrade, or inspection.

But in the end, no matter what service they’re offering, their goal is to make you a promise, take your money, and run.

Particularly clever door-to-door scammers have even been known to base their scam narrative off legitimate work being done in the neighborhood.

For example, a con artist might give his driveway paving scam the semblance of legitimacy by knocking on doors when actual paving trucks are working down the block.  In a common version of this scam, the fraudster will make his pitch by saying, “we’re with the paving company working down the street and we have some extra asphalt–we noticed your driveway could use work and we’d like to offer you a deal.”

Like any scam, these “contractors” will usually ask for money up front–in cash–before work has even been initiated.  Once payment is secured, the scammer will either show up to do incredibly shoddy work or won’t show up for the scheduled work at all.  Though the latter may seem particularly bad, the former is often much worse–not only does a victim lose thousands of dollars in payment to the scammer, but it may also cost thousands more to hire a professional to correct the damage that was done.

Rule #1: as door-to-door scamming season approaches, don’t trust any kind of contractor, landscaper, or renovation specialist soliciting you without your inquiry.  This isn’t to say ALL door-to-door sales are sinister–it’s very possible a roofing company could try to drum up a little extra business near a work site by leaving their information with neighbors in need of a few repairs.  But you should be very skeptical and you should NEVER agree to any kind of work based on a doorstep solicitation.  Always, always, always research a company and read reviews before you schedule work.  Ask for information and time to consider the offer, but definitely don’t make the decision on the spot.

Rule #2: high-pressure sales tactics are the hallmark of scammers.  “We can only give you this low price if you schedule the work right now,” “this offer is only available today,” “if you don’t act now, we won’t be in this area again.”  These strategies are intended to make you go against your better judgment and make a split-second uninformed decision.  A legitimate contractor gives you time to consider a quote. Be wary of those who don’t.

Rule #3: do not pay contractors upfront.  While it is common and customary for homeowners and contractors to negotiate a reasonable down payment for major repairs or substantial work, don’t trust someone demanding most or all of their compensation upfront.  A scammer will try to squeeze every last drop of money out of a victim upfront as possible.  A professional will understand and expect that a client needs to see great work being completed as promised before making full payment.

Rule #4: whatever payment structure you agree on, get it in writing before you make payment.

Rule #5: be wary when asked to pay in cash.  Like Rule #1, this is not always a marker for a scammer.  Legitimate contractors take cash the same way a scammer will–some professionals may even offer a small discount on work if you pay in cash.  But the difference between a professional and a scammer is a professional accepts several forms of payment–scammers only accept cash.  Combined with demanding payment upfront, if a door-to-door solicitor only accepts cash for services, you’ve probably got a scammer on your hands.

These aren’t the only solid suggestions you should keep in mind to avoid being door-to-door scammed. Check out this article at AgingCare for some more common door-to-door scam tactics and key things to keep and eye on to avoid becoming another victim.

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