Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Consumer beware: Scams bloom in the spring

RICH LADEN Updated: April 19, 2013 at 12:00 am

Just as flowers bloom in the spring, so do consumer scams that target homeowners.

Roofing scams. Asphalt paving scams. Moving scams.

“This is the time of the year that people are starting to do things outside,” said Carol Odell, who’s retiring next month after 14 years as CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado. “The con artists know that, so they come to your door with a deal that you cannot turn down.”

Scammers have one thing in mind, Odell said: Persuade unsuspecting or trusting homeowners to hand over money for a roof repair or other work. The scammers then take off after doing either little or no work.

Many homeowners fall victim to such scams — even when a stranger shows up unannounced on their doorstep.

“When you’ve had that face-to-face contact, there’s a certain level of trust,” said Steve Seder, co-owner of Aspen Roofing Inc. in Colorado Springs and president of the El Paso County Roofing Contractors Association, a trade group for local roofers. “There’s a tendency to want to trust that person, especially if they look like they have an honest face and if they sound like they know they’re talking about.”

Here are some common scams that homeowners should be aware of as the weather gets nicer:

• The asphalt scam: An employee of a so-called asphalt company shows up unsolicited at your door, telling you he just finished an asphalt driveway repair in your neighborhood, has some leftover material and doesn’t want to dump it.

He was driving by your house and noticed your driveway has a few problems. For a discounted price, he’ll use the leftover asphalt on your driveway. According to the BBB, however, leftover asphalt is useless because it needs to be hot to adhere properly.

“It’s usually not a good product,” Odell said.

Not only have you paid for an inferior material, but you then have to pay to have it scraped off, she said.

“They get your money, plus you’re going to have pay more money now to fix the problem they created,” Odell said.

• The roofing scam: Similar to the asphalt scam. Your doorbell rings, and someone tells you he just finished a roofing job in the area, was driving by your house and noticed you might have a problem. He’ll offer to climb up and give your roof a free inspection.

Seder says it’s a mistake to let a stranger poke around on your roof or anywhere else around your home.

“Would you trust a doctor that knocked on your door and asked if you were feeling OK today, and offered to run some tests on you and do some things for you?” he asked.

Such solicitors might work for a roofing company, but they’re more likely “travelers” — con artists who travel from state to state, following seasonal changes in the weather or descending on a community after a tornado, fire or other disaster, Odell said.

After finding a problem on the roof, or perhaps creating one during the so-called inspection, the con artist will offer to do the work for the homeowner — but needs money in advance to purchase roofing materials. Once a homeowner hands over money, the con artist never comes back, Odell said.

• The landscaping scam: A “landscaper” offers to do work around your home — such as fence repair or installing a sprinkler system, Odell said.

Like the other scams, the con artist says he needs money to purchase building materials, but then disappears with the cash.

The scammer might actually do a portion of the work, but never finishes. In one case, Odell said, scammers offered to install an underground sprinkler system. They put the sprinkler heads in place, but didn’t bother to install the water pipes.

“These people are clever,” Odell said.

• The moving scam: Many people who are moving will do so when temperatures are warmer, said Carolyn Tyler, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Attorney General’s Office.

The problem? The consumer contracts for a move with a company at a specific rate. However, after the mover arrives and loads up the homeowner’s furniture and other items, the mover decides he won’t release the goods until the consumer shells out more money, Tyler said.

“At that point, they’re holding the consumer’s goods hostage,” she said.

• The subscription scam: Even in the age of downloading books and magazines on tablets and mobile devices, some scammers still sell magazine subscriptions or books by knocking on doors, said Blair Reeves, the BBB’s operations director.

While some books and magazine sellers are legitimately raising money for nonprofits or charities, others are con artists who take your money and never deliver the items, she said.

• The furniture scam: A truck or moving van rumbles down your block, carrying furniture that a driver says is excess merchandise from a store and is available at a discounted price.

“They say they’re doing a big clearance, or they have an overflow in the warehouse,” Reeves said. “They have all this great furniture at below retail price and will give this big deal.”
Unfortunately, the furniture they’re selling is typically of poor quality, she said. After you hand over your money, the truck is gone and you’re stuck.

• The timeshare scam: This one targets owners of timeshare units, who are advertising to sell their ownership stake, Tyler said. They’ll receive a phone call from a prospective buyer — calls that often come in the spring when people are lining up summer vacations.

But when the supposed buyer wants to close on the purchase, they’ll ask the timeshare owner to send money to cover taxes or fees associated with the deal, Tyler said.

• The grandparents scam: This one targets seniors, Tyler said.

High school and college kids often travel during spring break or in the early summer. That’s when older residents receive a late-night or early morning phone call from someone identifying themselves as a grandchild. Or, the call might come from someone identifying herself as a law-enforcement official.

In either case, the caller says the grandchild has been arrested, is stuck in jail in Mexico or somewhere else and needs bail money to get out. The grandparents are asked to wire money.
Unfortunately, Tyler said, some do.

Contact Rich Laden: 636-0228

HOW TO AVOID BECOMING A VICTIM

• If someone knocks on your door and offers to do household repairs, install a roof or sell you a product, be suspicious. Most legitimate businesses advertise and don’t solicit door-to-door. Does the person knocking on your door have a vehicle with an out-of-state license plate? If so, that’s a red flag.

• Don’t rush. Take your time to hire someone for a new roof, household repair and the like. Talk with friends and relatives about who they used. If someone wants your business, ask for references. Get a quote or written bid for the work.

• Don’t pay in cash for roof repairs or other work. Most reputable contractors and businesses accept checks and credit cards. If you write a check, make it out to a business or company, not an individual.

• Check the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado’s website to see if a company is a BBB accredited business, how long it’s been operating, what kind of reviews it has and whether there have been complaints. More consumer information is available on the Colorado attorney general’s website.

• If you feel you’re a victim, report it. Contact the BBB at www.southerncolorado.bbb.org or 636-1155; contact the state Attorney General’s Office at www.coloradoattorneygeneral.gov or 1-800-222-4444.

Sources: Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado; Colorado Attorney General’s Office; El Paso County Roofing Contractors Association.

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