Ironically, it’s refreshing that in the digital age one of the oldest scams is still done on foot. Face-to-face, even door-to-door. Not that it’s any less harmful than its digital cousins. Innocent victims can lose thousands of pounds, euro or dollars to home improvement scams. To make matters worse, these scams often involve additional crimes as well. You may be opening your door to burglary, insurance fraud and extortion, among other nightmares.
What’s the most common way to get mixed up in home improvement scams? Opening the door. The ostensible contractor unexpectedly shows up and offers to help. He’ll say he was just driving by and noticed that your roof is damaged. Or your driveway is cracked. Or your rain gutters are clogged. Whether any of the above is in fact true or false is irrelevant. He’s here to save the day, and for an unbeatable price!
What About the Materials?
When you open the door he may tell you that he just finished some work in the neighbourhood. He has some leftover material. Once again, it’s your lucky day. He can give you the deal of a lifetime to reseal your driveway, or whatever. What if that ploy doesn’t work? If you don’t immediately agree, he may pressure you. For example, he may claim that he’ll get fired if he returns to his boss with so much extra stuff. Also, he’ll offer to lower the price even further because he’ll be using that leftover material. Now he’s playing to both your sense of compassion and your sense of greed. And if he says it’s now or never, you can add a sense of urgency to the mix.
By the way, the ‘leftover material’ may or may not exist. In the event it does, it’s because he purposefully ordered more than necessary for the previous job. The victim before you already paid for it. You’re paying for it a second time.
And What Happens if You Fall for Home Repair Scams?
These scammers are notorious for doing incredibly shabby work. For example, their driveways are often far thinner than accepted standards. Sometimes they do nothing more than apply a film of heavy oil dyed black. They make an old cracked driveway look good until the next rain washes it away. By then the scammers are long gone, of course. Good luck in finding them. If they’re not in your sight when they’re working on your roof, they may even make a lot of noise without doing any actual work at all.
Speaking of moving on, this is not only a common tactic and a smart way to avoid the police. In some cases even a cultural heritage: some of these home repair scammers are members of a secretive insular group known as the Irish Travellers. The Travellers came to the U.S. in the 19th century and today have communities in South Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, Texas, and a few other places. The ones who work the home repair scam follow the good weather in packs. They often take their young teenage sons with them to teach the ropes of thievery to the new generation.
Other Types of Home Repair Scams
Predators can also take advantage of recent natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, hurricanes or tornadoes. They are often the first to show up and the first to disappear after scamming as much money as they can.
Another type of home improvement scam involves a bid much lower than every other contractor. If it sounds like a shockingly good deal, one (or both) of two things will happen. The first is that the quality of the work will be dreadfully inadequate. The second is that the scammer is counting on finding ‘unexpected problems’ during the job in order to inflate the final cost.
Home repair scams can affect anyone, but they typically attempt to target senior citizens, on the assumption that seniors stand a better chance of being trusting.
In February 2020, the office of the Attorney General of Illinois announced that it was investigating two cases involving a Chicago-area contractor who allegedly charged two elderly sisters $8,000 for home repairs that were never completed. During the previous 35 years the same contractor had been charged three times with defrauding $300,000 from homeowners, three times for document forgery, eight times for running a fictitious business, and nine times for deception. He also had declared bankruptcy nine times. Somehow the law had never caught up with him.
Two months later, a veteran home repair scammer with a lengthy rap sheet was arrested by police in Bayonne, New Jersey. He was originally asked by a 65-year-old homeowner to repair a simple leak after knocking on his door. The price they agreed upon was $1,100. That repair, however, was not properly completed and the alleged scammer had to return to fix it. But once he gained entree, he began to look for additional problems that required attention. By the time he was done the homeowner had forked over a total of $200,000. The suspect, however, thought he could continue to take advantage of his victim and returned with an exaggerated bill for $15,000 for a sealant. It was at only that point that the homeowner alerted the police.
If you think you’ve been the victim of a home repair scam, contact the fund recovery experts at MyChargeBack.