Avoid being prey

You’ve probably received the calls: “Hi, I’m Mr. Smith from Acme Home Improvement and I noticed your roof needs repairs.” Or, “Hi, I’m from Acme Landscaping and I see that you need to have your leaves and lawn taken care of.”

Have you every had just plain strangers come to your residence and offer to do odd jobs? If you are living alone and have no one around to help with the home maintenance, these offers can sound wonderful, too good to be true.

That might be exactly right. Many of these seemingly angels are scammers circling neighborhoods like sharks looking for their next prey.

This time of the year, with winter coming and the leaves piling up — no one likes raking leaves — be very cautious on who you hire to help around your home. Rip-off artists and burglars often get their foot in the door — literally — by offering their services.

If you are looking to have a big job done, such as replacing the roof, adding a deck, repaint the house or anything major, do your homework. Why? Just like all other scams discussed in these articles, seniors are more trusting, honest and vulnerable — what the “sharks” calculate to be easy prey.

Seniors are usually home throughout the day, a good time for contractors to knock on doors. Seniors have disposable income and with advanced age, home repair is harder to do themselves. Did you know according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about 60 percent of older people live in a home that is more than 20 years old. Older homes need help.

Some of the warning signs that you might be dealing with scammers are they:

• Arrive at your house uninvited, going door to door because they “happen” to be in the neighborhood;

• Claim to have finished work in the neighborhood and have extra material left over they can offer at a discount:

• Want to inspect your property when you are not home or inspect the property at no charge, break something on purpose, then charge you to fix it;

• Suggest fixes you never noticed needed done;

• Offer no identification on themselves or their company;

• Provide a discount so that your home can be used as a model to find additional customers for them;

• Insist that you come and examine damage they found — which allows associates to slip inside the house and steal valuables while you are occupied;

• Want you to make an immediate decision or offers a special deal for “today only”;

• Only accepts cash.

Whenever you have someone at your residence offering to do any type of work on your home, always try to have someone else there with you — either a family member, friend or a neighbor.

If you are not sure of the contractors, take pictures of their trucks that show license plates, and if you are really concerned, called the police. Lots of time, the police might already be aware of these subjects, so let them know and they will check them out.

When I was working for the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office, one of the more popular complaints we would get involved paving companies. We had driveway-sealing companies that would start a job, but after being paid, took off without finishing the job, or their work was really bad.

Just like the other scams we talked about, always think first before reacting. Do your homework, research the company or person, don’t take the first offer, and shop around. There are a lot of good and honest contractors who do great work and are willing to work with you to get the job done right.

Please be careful on who you are dealing with and if you have any questions or have been involved in a scam, please call me at the Trumbull County Office of Elderly Affairs, 330-675-7096.

Don’t get scammed by home improvement ‘helpers’

• Never pay up front for any repairs before the work is started.

• Remember that reliable or trustworthy contractors don’t need to solicit business door to door.

• If damage is caused by a storm, call your insurance company first.

• Do not sign a contract without getting estimates for the job from multiple contractors.

• Make sure the contractor is licensed and bonded.

• Always get a written estimate of the work to be done, the complete cost and time necessary to complete the work, and how payments will be made.

• Ask for references.

• Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if completes have been lodged against the contractor.

• Never sign anything you don’t understand. Have another person look over the contract.

• Did I mention to never, never, never pay up front before work begins? And never pay the full amount until the job is completed.