Spring is often the season to start in on the home repairs and improvements, but with this also comes a wave of home repair scams that negatively impact seniors. Home repair scams are big money for criminals and can be as high as $400,000.
Though many seniors enjoy the independence of staying in our homes, we can’t always do the repairs and upkeep required. So, it isn’t unusual for seniors to hire others to come in and aid us in maintaining our house and yard.
Unfortunately, scammers know this about seniors making us a prime target. And for those who are not familiar with the workings of our homes, we are an even bigger target. Just being a homeowner doesn’t mean that we know how or when certain things need repair or replacement unless it’s painfully obvious.
So when a crook comes to our door and offers to do a free home inspection, many of us take them up on their offer. And, big surprise, the scammer’s investigation turned up some issues such as water in the attic or damaged shingles. But in their kind, reassuring manner, they are there to help us, which is when they ask us for money.
And of course, we are going to hire them because no one wants a leaky roof that will cost them more if it isn’t fixed right now. And besides, this nice person is right here and saves us the trouble of finding and hiring someone else. So, it is easy to see how these scams work.
This article will explain the different home repair scams and how they work, what to do to avoid home repair scams, and what to do in the event you are a victim of fraud.
Reasons Why Seniors are Targeted for Home Repair Scams
In addition to the reasons listed above seniors make good targets because:
- We have retirement funds and often have home equity built up
- Seniors are often more polite and trusting
- Seniors are less likely to report a scam
- Seniors are perceived to be perceived witnesses
Often criminals prey on seniors hoping to find on that may have impaired mental capacity, such as becoming easily confused or extreme forgetfulness. Also, home repair scammers take advantage of seniors who live alone and may be isolated from their family or community, often acting as a friend to talk to and relieve some of the loneliness.
Common Home Repair Scams
- Dupe-and-Dash Travelers – This is where they ask for money for material costs or a good-faith down payment, only to be never from again.
- Woodchucks – These criminals are the ones that build a strong rapport with their clients and repeatedly scam the homeowner.
- Overcharge – Pretty straightforward, they overcharge for the work or material, sometimes going as far as claiming they are using a more expensive product than what they use
- Impersonating a home inspector or other official to demand you make home repairs immediately
- Urging homeowners to borrow money from the bank or other lenders to pay for home repairs
What Scammers are Looking For
It is essential to point out how scammers find their senior victims. Many of these criminals cruise neighborhoods looking for a few specific things:
- Unkempt lawns – Overgrown grass, unruly looking shrubs, and trees that need trimming
- Lawn figurines
- Handicap placards
- Wheelchair ramps.
These telltale signs let the scammer know that there is a likely target. The unkempt lawn is a major red flag for these criminals as it points out that the resident is either physically unable or does not have the time to maintain their lawn, making an offering to do the work all the easier.
Many of the scammers approach seniors by using the door to door sales method. They will first offer to do some minor work in the yard or provide a free home inspection. During this impromptu meeting, they are evaluating the senior to see if they are a good target while at the same time building rapport.
How the Scam Starts
Scammers are looking for a specific type of senior. One that is trusting, lives alone, and shows signs of possible diminished capacity or age-related memory loss.
But even those who are not suffering from memory loss or confusion can still get duped. Criminals will also prey on those who are not home repair savvy or are physically unable to complete specific tasks to maintain the home and yard.
Remember, these criminals are professionals and know how to present themselves as trustworthy, reliable contractors.
It is easy to become convinced that there is a need for a specific home repair unless you happen to be an expert. For example, con artists that offer to do a “free-inspection” will show you areas that require repair often because of something they have done, such as pouring water on insulation to misrepresent a leak.
How to Avoid the Scam
First, the easiest way to avoid a scam is to not talk with the scammers in the first place. If you have someone come to your door offering to do work or a free inspection turn them away, you can even go so far as telling them you already have someone coming out.
Many criminals are very good at coaxing or coercing homeowners into allowing them to do a free home inspection.
They may use fear tactics like, “I can see from the street that your roof has some damage, if you don’t get that taken care of soon it will cost you a lot of money. Do you want me to do a free inspection?” Your automatic answer should be no.
Also, after a severe storm or other natural disasters, many scammers come out in droves. If you happen to have storm damage or suspect you do, call your insurance agent first. They will send someone out to do the inspection. Also, many insurance agencies will even have recommendations for reliable, trustworthy contractors.
Other ways to avoid being scammed:
- Get a referral from a friend or family member for someone they’ve worked with and have found to be reliable
- Check out Angie’s List or another trusted database of companies that have been evaluated by customers just like you
- Never use a door to door service
- Make sure the contractor is insured or bonded
- Check the company in the Better Business Bureau database
- Don’t pay a large deposit
- Get multiple bids – the lowest one isn’t always the best one
- Only use licensed contractors when available, not all states require licensing
Red flags to look for:
- If the contractor only accepts cash
- Attempts to pressure you into an immediate decision
- Are unable to show you their credentials such as their license, permit, identification, or contact information
- The scammer comes to your door claiming to be doing work in your area and has leftover materials they could use on your house
- Offers a discounted rate if they can use the photos for their marketing
- Points out damage to your home that you hadn’t noticed before
What to do if You’ve Been Scammed
If you have been scammed, you should report the incident to your local non-emergency law enforcement agency.
Additionally, you can report the crime to:
- The Federal Trade Commission either by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP or online at ftc.gov/complaint.
- The Better Business Bureau
- Call for Action
- Local state consumer protection agency
- Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force
The more organizations your report them to, the less likely they will be able to scam the next person. Plus, you will never be able to recover your lost money unless you report it.
You should never be embarrassed or intimidated by being a victim of a home repair scam. It is a crime and needs to be reported as such. Criminals are relying on seniors to be too embarrassed to report the incident, which is why they have targeted you.