Every home needs regular maintenance and servicing to retain its value and keep both the occupants and the property itself safe. Whether you are an owner or a renter, you are likely to have regular contact with utility companies and require the occasional services of a contractor. While the vast majority of such operatives are honest, some will overcharge you for inadequate work and a few are criminals in disguise, looking to scam in any way they can. Learn how to spot the signs of three common scams and protect both yourself and your home.
Utility company scams
Whichever part of the country you live in, heat light and power are daily essentials. This means when you get a call from someone threatening to shut off your utilities because of unpaid bills, you’re going to give them your full attention. The thought of not being able to cook, have a hot bath or use the air conditioning is too unbearable to enable you to respond in any other way.
Scammers know this and play on the panic such news creates to get people to hand over money before they have had a chance to think things through. Although such calls may be genuine, it’s important to take the time to check as, in many circumstances, any money you hand over to a con artist will be lost forever.
The first thing to take into consideration is what are the chances that you really have fallen behind with your payments. No utility company will threaten to cut a customer off until they have sent out one or more cancellation notices well in advance. You should also remember that if the call is genuinely from your utility company, they will have all your information on file. While you might be asked to confirm one or two details, such as your zip code or your full name, the caller should also be able to provide some information to you as well.
If you have any doubts, call the company back using the number you find on your last bill. Cheap software is available that allows crooks to mimic the number they are calling from so don’t allow yourself to be reassured just because it seems as though the real phone number has appeared on your caller ID.
While this scam most often takes place over the telephone, there have also been cases of criminals posing as utility company workers turning up at people’s homes. Rather than threatening to cut you off, they may say they are there to audit your energy usage or carry out a safety inspection. The goal is often to sell you unauthorized or unnecessary products or services at an inflated price.
Official-looking identity badges and even uniforms can easily be faked so if you haven’t expressed an interest in any such services or booked an appointment with your utility company, it’s best not to let them in. It’s not unknown for fraudsters to work in pairs and use such pretense to gain access to your home. Once inside, one will distract you with conversation while the other scoops up your valuables.
Home Security Scams
Everyone wants to feel safe in their homes and the presence of a burglar alarm has been shown to act as a deterrent to some opportunistic thieves. Unfortunately, there are plenty of criminals out there who will turn up unannounced at your home and use the fear of crime to relieve you of your hard-earned cash.
Signs that your salesperson may be a scam artist include using scare tactics, such as informing you there have been a number of burglaries in properties similar to your home in the recent past, using high-pressure sales tactics with offers only available if you agree to sign up immediately and take no time to think about it.
A particularly fiendish scam involves con artists targeting homes that already have security systems in place and then impersonating representatives from that company on the basis that the system needs to be upgraded. A variation of this involves saying that the existing company has gone out of business and that a new firm has taken over. There have been cases of people signing contracts and even throwing away their existing, high-quality security equipment in order to allow a new but invariably fake or substandard pieces of equipment to be installed instead.
Many door-to-door security scams appear to offer great value for money with a basic alarm system on offer for $99 or even for free. However, small print in the contract will tie the buyer in to an excessive monthly fee for many years. To add insult to injury, the equipment installed in many such scams is woefully inadequate and consumer rights organizations have heard many tales of homes being burglarized with this equipment in place because it either doesn’t work at all or can be easily deactivated by intruders.
If you are interested in a home security system, it’s best to seek out a company yourself or to use a site such as HomeRenoCare that employs a thorough vetting process and checks into the reputation and history of every company listed. Using such a site you can not only ensure the service provider you are dealing with is genuine, but you benefit from additional peace of mind in knowing that, in the case of a dispute, the site will act as a mediator to help resolve the issues.
Home Improvement Scams
Changes in weather patterns have increased the chances of becoming the victim of a major catastrophe such as a powerful storm or flood. In the aftermath of such events, scam artists abound, knocking on your door and offering to fix all the problems for a bargain basement price. If the price they are offering seems too good to be true, then it probably is, and you should turn them away, especially if they insist on being paid in cash and offer you only a short time to decide on whether to go ahead or risk paying far more.
Some will take your deposit and never return, others will complete some but not all the work and leave your property in a worse state than it was when they started. If you have any doubts, ask for references as bad contractors will not have any. Searching the company name along with phrases such as “scam” or “rip off” will also help you determine whether they are a genuine firm.