Aging adults are the favorite targets of home improvement scammers. The con artists create a climate of fear that the house is a fire hazard or the senior will face much more expensive repairs or high utility bills if they do not hire the swindlers to do the improvements. Here are some tips on how to help your loved ones avoid being victimized by home repair scams that target seniors.
Types of Home Improvement Scammers Who Rip Off Seniors
There are two main types of home improvement scammers – visiting crooks and locals.
- The visiting fraudsters, called “travelers,” swoop into a neighborhood, promise to do work, collect upfront payments so they can supposedly buy materials, then disappear without doing the work.
- The local con artists, called “woodchucks,” trick seniors into having unnecessary work done. These people usually knock on the senior’s door and offer to trim the trees, which is how they got the nickname of woodchucks.
Taking Advantage of the Elderly Homeowner
- Unnecessary repairs. These schemes involve frightening the unsuspecting senior into thinking there is a problem that does not exist. For example, a pest control company salesperson might carry a container of dead termites and place them around the outside of a house. They then sign up the aging homeowner for termite removal and prevention services, costing thousands of dollars and continuing several times a year for many years.
- Not actually doing the work. If the older adult has mobility issues, the con artist might collect payment to do work but not actually perform the services. For example, the fraudster might charge the senior to perform annual servicing and expensive repairs, like replacing parts on a rooftop air conditioning unit. The crook knows the homeowner will not climb up on the roof to see if the repair person did any work, so he does not do any.
- Serial repairs. When a con artist encounters an elderly homeowner with cognitive or memory issues, he might rip her off by performing the same unnecessary repairs over and over, taking advantage of the senior’s confusion or memory issues. Some older adults have been swindled by people who replaced their attic insulation 12 times in six years, caulked windows eight times, and resodded the yard nearly every year.
How to Spot a Home Repair Scammer
The Federal Trade Commission offers these tips to help you avoid getting ripped off by unscrupulous home improvement companies. Do not do business with a contractor who:
- Is not licensed. Your local building department or consumer protection agency can tell you the licensing and bonding requirements in your area.
- “Just happens to be in the area” doing work for your neighbors. Another tip-off is if they say they have some materials left over from another job.
- Puts pressure on you to make a decision right away, without contacting anyone or taking the time to think about it.
- Has any shady financial practices, such as requiring all the money up front, insisting on cash payment or wanting you to finance the work with a lender the contractor knows.
Do not hire door-to-door contractors. Legitimate home improvement companies usually do not have to knock on doors to get business. Only hire companies who your friends, relatives, or neighbors have used and recommend. Insist on a written contract and have a trusted friend or relative read the agreement, before you sign it. Check out the person or company online and with local consumer protection groups.
AARP. “It Is the Season for Cons in Home Repairs.” (accessed June 27, 2018) https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2015/home-repair-scams.html
Federal Trade Commission. “Home improvement scams are no laughing matter.” (accessed June 27, 2018) https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2015/06/home-improvement-scams-are-no-laughing-matter