Your castle, their target. As your most valuable possession—and likely, biggest financial investment—your home is an attractive bull’s-eye for fraudsters. Why? They know you’ll take extra care (and spend extra dollars) to protect and maintain its value. And if you’re a retiree at home, con men see you as easy prey because you have more time to heed pitches that arrive in the mail or at your front door.
The schemes are varied. Here are some of the most popular home scams that have been showing up around the country—and what you can do to protect yourself.
POWER PLAYS. Have you been told that your utility service will be cut off because of unpaid bills? Expect that news, if legitimate, to arrive by mail—not via phone or through in-person demands for payment with prepaid debit gift cards. Have self-described technicians arrived unannounced for an emergency inspection? They could be burglars with fake IDS and rented uniforms. The latest utility scam: Impostor cable-company reps offer a service discount if your pay months in advance with gift cards.
BURGLAR BLOCKAGE. A home security system may thwart some crooks but attract others. Posing as technicians for security companies, some scammers claim they need to repair your alarm system. Then they deactivate it for a later burglary. Others tout free equipment to lock you into more expensive service. Reputable companies don’t operate that way. Also, if you have a GPS device in your car, don’t label your address as “home.” That steers parking lot thieves straight to your residence while you’re away.
CONTRACT CON. Beware the unsolicited contractor who tells you he’s working in the neighborhood and just happened to notice a home repair that you need. Some seek up-front payment or large deposits to “go buy materials” before vanishing. Others pester you to do additional unneeded jobs. Most do shoddy work. A favorite trick is “resealing” your driveway by spreading used motor oil on it. Your town’s building and permitting department can tell you whom to avoid.
FRAUD AT YOUR FRONT DOOR. Whether it’s overpriced magazine subscriptions, home products on a “limited time” offer or a heartfelt plea for a charity, think trouble. Your best defense: Never provide a credit card, check or personal information to a front-door stranger. If you do and have buyer’s remorse, the Federal Trade Commission’s Cooling-Off Rule gives you three days to cancel for a full refund on sales of $25 or more.
Written by Sid Kirchheimer for AARP Bulletin, April 2017