Posted: 2/28/2014

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Senior citizens make easy targets for some crooked contractors. Business Consumer Alliance has some helpful tips for seniors to spot these common home improvement scams.

avoiding home improvement scamsHome improvement and contracting scams can happen to anyone.  Unfortunately, senior citizens are often preyed upon by some crooked contractors and other unscrupulous characters.  Many of these scam artists promise speedy work for low prices and then end up leaving the homeowner high and dry with little or no work done, shoddy performance, or victims of price gouging.  Business Consumer Alliance offers the following information to help seniors spot and avoid common home improvement scams.

How the Scams Are Perpetrated

Door-to-Door Sales

Many seniors spend a good amount of time in the comforts of their home and this is often where scammers strike.  Frequently, solicitors offer to do some work, like roofing or painting, for a discount on the labor, or claim they have leftover materials at reduced prices.  After they receive payment, they do very little or nothing at all.

The Passerby

This usually involves an individual approaching a senior claiming to have noticed some things around their home that need repair or replacement.  They usually claim to have been working in the neighborhood when they spotted these problem areas.  Some even purposely cause damage before offering to do some repairs—at a discount, of course.  These offers can lead to substandard repairs that don’t last.  And, if paid up-front, many don’t even show up to complete the job.

Fast-talkers and Pushy Types

High pressure sales tactics are evident in every field.  Salespersons want and need to close the deal in order to make money.  They frequently speed through flashy sales pitches and stress the need to “act now” while the supposed deals last and press for a quick decision.  This often leads to the homeowner not having enough time to shop around to compare prices or check out the contractor.  Failing to do so can lead to seniors paying too much or possibly agreeing to receive work from an unlicensed or inexperienced contractor.

Scare Strategy

Some offers for “free inspections” can lead to costly repairs.  In many of these situations, the individual will find a problem that needs to be repaired right away or it will cause more damage.  These emergency repairs are usually expensive.  Instilling fear in a homeowner that the matter will get worse often leads to the senior agreeing to the job without doing research and paying a bill they might not be able to afford.

Other Tactics

Aside from the scenarios mentioned above, crooks often use other strategies like demanding cash for work, only to disappear after being paid, illegally charging huge down payments and delaying work, verbally agreeing to services and later failing to fulfill those promises, coercing seniors into taking out loans they cannot afford to cover unnecessary repairs, or starting work without authorization or before prices have been agreed upon.

Tips to Help Protect Seniors

In all cases, seniors and those responsible for their care should take precautions when choosing to have home improvements done or when hiring a contractor.  Here are some helpful tips:

  • Be suspicious of unsolicited offers to help make improvements or repairs to your home.  If you are approached by someone you don’t know offering to perform work, don’t be coaxed into doing business with them, even if they seem friendly and there to help.  Get a second opinion and evaluation of the work that needs to be done.
  • Never let a stranger into your home or instantly provide your personal information to solicitors or salespeople. Seniors are often targeted and become victims of identity theft.  Remember, it only takes a crook a little information to gain access to your finances or other personal information and steal your money or identity.
  • Compare all offers with similar services before you make a decision.  Keep in mind that the person offering the lowest price is not always the best choice.  When dealing with home improvements, this can often lead to inferior work that doesn’t last.
  • Get all promises, quotes, and agreements in writing before any work is started.  Make sure you understand the agreement and have a trusted and knowledgeable family member, friend, caregiver, or attorney look over the contract before signing.
  • Keep good records of everything for your protection.
  • Never make full payment before the work is complete.
  • Use experienced, licensed contractors to get the job done.
  • Don’t be afraid to say no and ask an individual to depart from your property.  Remember, you are the owner and it is your decision to have work done or not.  If you feel pressured to commit to something, ask for some additional time to consider the matter.  If the person is unwilling to leave or continues with their tactics, contact a neighbor, family member, or law enforcement for assistance.

The Business Consumer Alliance website has more information available on Hiring a Contractor, and other resource guides.  If you are a senior that has been victimized by a scam or you know of a senior that needs assistance filing a complaint, you can contact Business Consumer Alliance.  You may also let us know about the experience by leaving a review and rating the company’s services.

About The Author:

Nicole Pitts is a Senior Business Analyst for Business Consumer Alliance.  She has been with the organization for 11 years and specializes in report writing, business evaluation, and investigations.  Nicole corresponds with businesses regarding complaint trends and provides suggestions to help them alleviate problem areas that may cause concern.  She also conducts advertisement reviews, reports on government enforcement actions, and assists government agencies in obtaining information.  She enjoys cooking, reading, and spending time with her family.  Nicole may be reached by email at npitts@businessconsumeralliance.org.

Tags: scams, consumer tips, seniors

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