Mary Orr and Wallene Dockery fended off attempts to bilk them.
Lillian Busby plans to return light bulbs she didn't order to save herself money.Others, however, haven't been so lucky in safeguarding their money. Better Business Bureau and police experts say consumers, and particularly homeowners, need to be on guard for the seasonal scams that often bloom in spring and others that seem to run in cycles.
Take the roofing scam that Orr escaped. One Friday last month, three men arrived at the door of her Memphis home. Orr said one man asked if she remembered him, claiming to be the son of the person who put a new roof on the house several years back. She recalled having the roof work done, but the name the man at her door gave was different from the name of the person who did the previous roof repair.
The man claimed he saw loose shingles and a bubble that could be fixed with a fiberglass compound that cost $40 a pound. As one went onto the roof, the other men came into the house. Moments later, they pointed out the water on her dining room ceiling and wall, bedroom and closet, saying it came from the bubble. Orr believes one sprayed water into those rooms from the inside while she was distracted by the other.
"There's no way it could have come through in five minutes' time," she says.
The men told her they put 50 pounds of the compound on the roof and wanted $2,000. She told them she couldn't afford it and wanted to contact her son, who was a contractor, about the work. At that point, she says, the men said they would leave to get their literature and business cards, but they never returned.
Five other women weren't so lucky, said Lt. Ralph Anderson of the Memphis Police Department Fraud and Document Bureau. The women, between 70 and 85 years old, lost a total of $24,000 in recent weeks to the scam artists. The men, as Orr suspected, use water or a wet towel to make it look like the roof leaked, Anderson says. In some of the cases, the workmen took the women to their banks where they withdrew cash and gave it to the men for supplies. The men never returned.
A contractor helping the BBB checked the roof of one woman who had paid $9,000 to the men and discovered they had done no work, said John Myers, BBB president.
In addition to roofing scams, homeowners should be on the alert for other home repair, driveway, gardening and mulching scams that seem to proliferate in spring, Myers and Anderson says. They made these suggestions to help people avoid becoming victims of such frauds:
- If someone comes to your door offering to do work, get an address and phone number and verify it along with a license to do business in the city or state.
- Don't let people you don't know into your house.
- If you believe that you have a roof problem or other defect needing repair, call a contractor you know is legitimate to inspect it before agreeing to have work done by anyone.
- Don't give anyone cash before work is performed. No legitimate company will require prepayment.
- If you are suspicious of a repair offer, call the police.
Homeowners, however, are not the only ones targeted by scam artists. Dockery owns Sports Marketing, a book publishing business. Her breakfast was interrupted one recent morning by a caller asking for the model and identification number of her office copier.
She hung up the phone, a move Myers says is the right one. Such calls are part of a time-honored technique for squeezing money out of business owners. Once the caller gets the information on a copier, computer printer or other office machine, he sends office products - copier toner, computer paper, ink cartridges, fax paper - along with an invoice.