Beware: Spring brings scammers to your door

WASHINGTON — Now that the weather is warming up, realize that all the door-to-door vendors who come calling might not be legitimate.

“They’re going to tell you that your driveway needs to be fixed, that your trees need to be trimmed. They may even offer to do lawn service,” said Kelsey Owen of the Better Business Bureau, serving metro Washington D.C. and eastern Pennsylvania.

“Not everyone is a scammer that comes to your door, but there are definitely some red flags to look out for,” Owen warned.

You probably should be suspicious when offered a limited-time deal that expires if you don’t commit right away.

“Just tell them no. Close your door,” Owen said. “You don’t need to make any decision right away before you’ve had time to think it over.”

BBB warns that common scams involve magazine subscriptions, alarm systems and “storm chasers.”

“Storm chasers”

After severe weather, scam artists posing as roofing contractors prey on homeowners by taking money for work they never perform or leave only partially done. BBB advice:

  • Try to get at least three estimates.
  • Ask to see proof of licensing from your state, insurance and bonding.
  • Check the company at Better Business Bureau.
  • Get contract specifics in writing that include quality of materials and an expected completion date.
  • Pay by credit card so the charge can be contested if necessary.

Universal advice for any home improvement project is not to pay everything upfront. “We typically like to work in threes. So, maybe do an initial payment, but then you don’t keep paying them until the work is completely done and you’re satisfied with it,” Owen said.

Alarm systems
Scammers who see an alarm company sign in your yard pretend to belong to the company and claim your system is due for an upgrade. BBB advice:
  • Only allow someone into your home after contacting your alarm company to confirm their identity.
  • Ask questions and beware if they hesitate to provide specific answers.
  • Never sign any agreement if you feel pressured to do so.
  • Thoroughly read every page of what you’re asked to sign.
Magazine sales
Someone selling magazine subscriptions claims proceeds benefit a school or charity, but the magazine never arrives, or it comes with exorbitant fees or monthly charges. BBB advice:
  • Ask to see the terms and conditions.
  • Confirm the commitment period and how you can cancel.
  • If a discount price begins the deal, find out when the full price kicks in.
  • Pay by credit card so the charge can be contested if necessary.
  • Get everything in writing.

If your county requires door-to-door solicitors to be licensed (many in the D.C. area do), ask to see it and examine the license closely to confirm it’s legitimate and not expired.

Fairfax County, Virginia, offers some additional tips for sniffing out such scams.

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