Door to Door Contractors - Warning Informative - When a contractor knocks at your door it's time to go on high alert

Review by Mr. Senior on 2006-09-20
An old saying goes, "Don't believe everything you hear." Marge G., a sixty-year-old widow living alone in a small private home in the Atlanta area, should have heeded that advice.

She answered a knock on her front door one late fall afternoon. A man dressed in work clothes identified himself as a contractor building a new home in her neighborhood. On his way home after work he had noticed a major structural problem with Marge's detached garage and thought she should know about it.

Alarmed, Marge accompanied the contractor outside. He pointed to a corner of the garage and told Marge it was slowly sinking into the ground. The garage, he said, was in imminent danger of collapse.

Marge, alarmed, inspected the garage, but couldn’t see the fault. The contractor told her that was because she didn't have his trained eye. He informed Marge in an ominous tone that she was in violation of the building code.

Marge panicked. Like most people of her generation, the thought of breaking the law, however unintentionally, was abhorrent.

So, Marge gave the contractor the go ahead to repair the garage. Three days later the contractor finished the job and presented Marge with a bill for $2500.

Marge was unaware that the contractor had known she was a woman living alone, a big, fat juicy target for a scammer. And, of course, there was nothing wrong with the garage.

Legitimate Contractors Do Not Solicit Work Door to Door

When a contractor approaches you to repair anything on your home or property, especially for a problem you’re unaware of, it’s time to go on high alert. Chances are you're about to become the victim of a scam. This is one of the oldest tricks in the scammer’s handbook.

Instead of accepting the contractor's word, Marge should have asked other contractors to verify the claim of a sinking garage. She would have quickly discovered the scam.

She also made the mistake of not asking the contractor for a business card or letterhead displaying the name, address, and phone number of his business. If he had neither, she then should have asked for his phone number, address, and searched the local telephone directory to see if it existed.

She might have asked to see his business license. No license, no work. She also failed to do that.

Marge had the option to check the reputation of the contractor with the Better Business Bureau. A listing with that consumer organization provides would-be customers with a history of complaints. Reputable contractors are eager to assure customers of their reliability by exposing their record for all to see. Not being listed with the BBB is an indication that the contractor's work might be shoddy. It’s not a sure sign, but it is a signal to dig deeper and uncover his work record.

Marge might then have called the state Office of Consumer Affairs (404-818-6600. Statewide toll free: 866-351-0001) to ask if the contractor had any complaints filed against him.

And if Marge knew how to surf the Internet, she might have found complaints against the contractor simply by writing his name or the name of his business in a search engine like Google or Yahoo!, or looked up his name on a consumer website such as www.ripoff.com .

Finally, if Marge had realized she was being scammed she could have called either the local police department or the state's Elder Abuse Hotline at 404-657-0152, statewide toll free: 888-774-5250

Copyright Ron Smith, 2006

"Ron Smith is a retired executive who was almost scammed to the tune of fifty grand, which lead to his investigation of scams against seniors. His book SCAMBUSTERS, subtitled; MORE THAN SIXTY WAYS SENIORS GET SWINDLED AND HOW THEY CAN PREVENT IT, will be published by HarperCollins this November."
Comments:8 Replies - Latest reply on 2006-09-22
Posted by D. on 2006-09-21:
If he came back and did the work (although it wasn't needed)and she paid him...how and when did she discover that she was scammed? Even if someone told her, later there was nothing wrong with the garage, how would they know if she said he fixed it? This sounds like one of those urban legends...I question the story but the warning comes through loud and clear...thanks for the post!
Posted by Timboss on 2006-09-21:
If the so-called contract did come back he probably did very little, dig a little hole, throw in some cement, gets his money and off he goes. It doesn't take a building engineer to see this is worthless.

Unfortunately these scams are all too common. These type of people will say your chimmney is falling down, your driveway needs sealing (then spray on a cheap product), they have some 'extra' paint (mostly water) from another job, etc, etc. Check out a few of these sites, they are NOT urban legends:
http://www.pueblo.gsa.gov/cic_text/housing/home-sw/home-impv.htm (U.S. Government publication)
http://www.ago.mo.gov/publications/homerepair.htm (Attorney General of Missouri)

I am not usually quick enough thinking, but if someone did try that (saying something was against the law) I would hope I would say, "Let me call my son as the Sherrif's Office, he can check on this with the building inspector."
Posted by D. on 2006-09-21:
I know these things happen everyday and mostly on our senior citizens...I wasn't saying the situation is an urban legend, I was just questioning the story on this posts...that's why I asked how and when did the victim find out it was a scam...but yes, everyone should be aware of the scams out there...the first one's who become a victim is the person who feels it would never happen to them because they have their guard down.
Posted by Anonymous on 2006-09-21:
Very good post, thank you...
Posted by Anonymous on 2006-09-21:
Posted by pissedon on 2006-09-21:
I understand your frustration,Marge. I called a siding company off a 'flyer' passed out in our neighborhood. 'National Siding' then subcontracted a man who had worked for them before. This guy came to wk. one person & ret. from lunch, each day, another person. Lets just call it 'impaired' (not alchohol). After two days he began demanding money, from his boss, for wk. done; then began demanding money dailey; then began to threaten me (he'll remove the siding) if he doesn't get his money. My roof was being done,same time; their inspector says "where's the siding permit"; the co. never got one. I had to get one! Nut case then called the police on me for not paying him& returning his tools (I had co. owner remove them). Co. owner then sent a replacement, after telling me he knew this guy had a problem but thought he had it under 'control'. Replacement was then caught putting up my siding w/out the PAID for insulation! Yes be very afraid of these fly buy night companies!
Posted by DORCAS on 2006-09-22:
My 76 year old dad lives in a senior community by himself. While I was visiting him after he had some surgery I went outside and someone had left their "Handyman" calling card on his porch. It was actually a torn off piece of cardboard from a box and a name and phone number were scribbled on it with the word Handyman. I found out these were being placed around the homes where someone had been known to have and illness or recent surgery and I guess they hoped these folks would be desperate. Thank God my dad has a sharp mind and good sense not to fall for this junk. Unfortunately a few around there hadn't been as lucky. Not really a scam but it was pretty shoddy work they received.
Posted by DORCAS on 2006-09-22:
P.S. Sounds like the book could be a nice stocking stuffer or gift at Christmas time.

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