As weather warms, scam artists begin #039;working#039;

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 23, 2004

Each year, particularly during the spring and summer seasons "con" or "scam" artists will invade communities through mail, phone and door-to-door solicitations.

It is not always easy to spot such a "con." They are smart, persuasive and aggressive. Unfortunately, in many cases, the elderly are targeted by the "scam" artists. In an effort to prevent our area citizens from becoming a victim to a scam, the following tips are offered for your protection.

Protect Yourself:

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Anyone with a phone has probably talked to a con artist, a person promoting no-risk investments, offering prizes or asking for donations to a non-existent charity. Scams also occur as a result of door-to-door solicitation and often target great deals for home repairs. Local, legitimate businesses will not solicit your business in such a campaign. Nationwide many senior citizens fall prey to the door to door scammer and phone solicitors. Consider the following safety tips if confronted by a door-to-door solicitor or a phone solicitation you feel may be a scam.

1. Do not allow solicitors to enter your home.

2. Obtain the company name, address and phone number.

3. Ask for an identification of the person and a business card.

4. Note a description of their vehicle and license plate number.

5. Do not be intimidated by a fast, high pressure sales pitch.

6. Never hesitate to contact the police.

7. Don't be afraid or embarrassed to ask questions.

8. Do not provide them with any financial information or documents.

9. Do not rush into any home improvement decisions.

10. For home improvements/repairs seek estimates from established businesses.

11. Inspect the work or ask a person you have confidence in to do this inspection.

12. Obtain a detailed, written description of the work to be performed and the costs involved. Ask a family member or trusted friend to assist if you feel you need help.

13. Do not make an investment with a stranger over the phone.

14. Do not reveal credit card numbers, Social Security numbers or bank account numbers over the phone.

15. Be wary of high pressure sales tactics, demands for "cash only," and pressure for quick decisions.

Common Home Repair Scams:

Rotting roof - Many roof jobs start innocently when a scammer appears offering to clean out gutters. Then, they inform you

the roof needs repaired, or even worse, replaced. The scammer may start the job and not complete it after a large sum of money for material has been paid to them. You may be billed for material that is not purchased or is of poor quality. Always seek multiple estimates, in writing, and rely on local established businesses. Ask the contractor for references and check them out.

Driveway sealant - Your driveway appears to have been sealed. However, the driveway may simply have been sprayed with tar or watered down black paint. At times, a sealant may be used but you are overcharged for materials and/or labor. The materials may be of poor quality but you are charged for quality products. The "con" asks for cash up front to purchase materials, never to be seen again.

Exterior painting - Again, poor material may be used and the "con" has now gained access to the home. This will increase the possibility of a theft or robbery. With the thief having access to your residence, items may be found missing later but the subjects are long gone.

Toilet scam/water leak - The "scammer" may place water on the floor around the toilet or under a sink and inform you of a water leak. You then are billed for material never purchased and for work never completed.

Home Repair Prevention Tips:

1. If hiring a contractor, use local established businesses.

2. Obtain references, a legitimate business will gladly provide them.

3. Do not pay large sums of money before a project is completed.

4. Have someone knowledgeable review any documents before you sign anything.

5. Do not give out bank account and credit card numbers.

6. Do not pay large sums of money up front for material.

7. Keep all records of expenditures for home repair and remodeling.

8. Get agreements and warranties in writing.

9. Read all documents before signing anything. Seek professional advice if needed.

Not every solicitation is an attempt to steal from the consumer. However, by familiarizing yourself with the information listed above you can help to protect yourself from becoming a victim of a scam.

Should your group or organization desire a crime prevention presentation, please call my office at 532-3525.

Tim Sexton is sheriff of Lawrence County.