Recently more of my clients and friends have been talking about scams they fell or almost fell for, so I decided to write a series of articles to build awareness about dishonest schemes that confront us in person and via internet, email, mail or phone. The more I listen to stories and research about scams, the more I realize how easy it is to get tricked. In our competitive commerce, we are taught to look for “great deals,” “romance,” “ways to win or to get rich,” “a better job,” “best living environment,” “better health” and “beauty.” We try to pay our taxes on time and so get nervous when we get contacted about money owed to the IRS. These are the areas in which scams are blooming! This reminds me of a phrase from “Desiderata,” my favorite poem by Max Ehrhard (1927):
“Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is...”
The top runner in this category is the “home improvement scam.” Someone knocks at your door. The guy in work clothes says that he has been doing jobs in your neighborhood. Because he’s already here with his crew, truck and materials, he claims that he can give you a better deal. The most typical offers are for inexpensive, quick tree work or roof repairs.
It sounds like a win-win situation, but often the person takes a down payment and leaves before the job is done, or causes damages that costs you a lot, because it turned out he is not licensed and insured as stated on his car or business card. Or they start the low-priced job but find additional reasons for extra jobs which cost considerably more. If you say “no,” they leave you with a mess and a job half-done.
In my old, heavily wooded neighborhood, tree removal trucks roamed the streets during the winter and after storms, soliciting for work. Maybe some were legitimate companies in need of work during the off season, but I’ve had to deal with the bad sort, too.
Sometimes the goal of a scammer or thief is to get the proverbial “foot in the door,” to see what you might need or own, and gather information about any possible security system. They will offer very plausible reasons why you should let them in to use, let’s say, your bathroom or telephone.
But we also had the case when a person with Down syndrome got lost in our neighborhood, and my wife let her in and called a phone number around her neck to get her picked up. So, it always comes down to a personal decision; you should at least consider that it might be a trickster.
Fraud prevention tips
Make sure you get everything in writing, including price, timeline, materials, proper insurance and licenses. Don’t just fall for a business card; they are too easy to print and fake. Before you commit, research the company on the internet, including reviews.
And don’t forget that for some projects you’ll need to get a permit first. (A scammer will of course say that it’s not necessary.) I try to take a picture of their work vehicles, so I can track them down better, if necessary. Just as with investment and loan scams, if a company asks for an upfront fee to secure their services, step away. And remember the old proverb: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
The Better Business Bureau has posted a solid list of things to avoid in order to protect you and your family. You might want to print this out and/or share it with friends and family:
Never send money to someone you have never met face-to-face.
Don’t click on links or open attachments in unsolicited email.
Don’t believe everything you see.
Don’t buy online unless the transaction is secure.
Be extremely cautious when dealing with anyone you’ve met online.
Never share personally identifiable information.
Don’t be pressured to act immediately.
Use secure, traceable transactions.
Whenever possible, work with local businesses.
Be cautious about what you share on social media.
What should you do if you think you have been swindled?
If you believe that you are a victim of fraudulent activity, contact the local sheriff's office. You can call the non-emergency number for the Sheriff's Office at 540-347-3300 to make a report, contact the BBB, or in some cases, even contact the FBI.
If you are in doubt about a possible scam, or have experienced a case of fraud yourself, you are most welcome to email me, so I can better inform people through this series and perhaps prevent someone from falling into a trap. Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Klaus Fuechsel founded Warrenton’s Dok Klaus Computer Care in 2002 and is known for his German-American humor and computer house calls. He and his award-winning tech team work hard to save data and solve their clients’ computer cases. Any questions? Ask the Dok at 540-428-2376 or go to www.dokklaus.com .