Service scams, also called “home improvement scams,” tend to target senior adults. Scammers focus on neighborhoods with a high concentration of older residents, or even review obituaries. They appear on the doorsteps claiming to spot something in need of fixing — like a roof or storm damaged trees. Some people will show up in your neighborhood claiming to have a “great deal,” such as on the latest security system.
Scammers often request upfront partial or complete payment, then say they will return in a few days to complete the work. They never come back, or if they do, perform substandard or only a portion of the expected work.
One twist to the home improvement scam may be when one alleged worker distracts the senior, while another enters the house to steal money and other valuables.
When thinking about your home improvement needs, keep these tips in mind when hiring an outside service:
Be alert to these red flags
- Special “deal” because they are already in the neighborhood
- Sense of urgency: Something dire will happen if you don’t address right now
- High pressure is key
- Non-local or unfamiliar company
- They called you; you didn’t call them
- Payment (or partial payment) requested before any service is done
What to do
- Trust your instincts!
- Don’t hire someone on the spot who solicits you at your home
- Call a reputable, local service provider who is willing to provide references
- Contact the Better Business Bureau and check with other references before hiring
- Don’t allow an individual in your home who you did not contact. Not even to do an inspection
- Schedule time with service providers at a time convenient for you
- If you are concerned, get an opinion from a reputable company of your choice
- Discuss with a trusted person who will not benefit from the transaction
- Don’t sign anything or make any payments unless you initiated the conversation and understand the agreement
- Agree to service work in writing
- Discuss options with a trusted person or consider if you need professional legal advice
- Pay your service providers after the work has been completed
- Consider payments via credit card rather than checks/cash for better paper trail
ALWAYS report any suspicious activity to your local law enforcement – IMMEDIATELY.