In this rough recessionary economy, most folks are vigilantly watching each and every one of their hard-earned dollars. Therefore, when you have a much needed home repair, it might tempting to find the cheapest way to fix the problem. But sometimes, if you are not very careful, you might just get ripped off.
The 2009 economic decline has put a fresh focus on a nomadic clan commonly known as Travelers. Members of this highly secretive, almost invisible, clique, are descendants of immigrants who came to the United States in the 1800s. They still speak their own language and are intensely distrustful of outsiders.
And, according to law enforcement officials, a few Travelers are alleged to be associated with scams, mostly involving home improvement schemes.
In fact, the Contractors State License Board (CSLB), a California state agency, has issued a warning about some Travelers who may be fraudulent home contractors and carry out roofing, painting, and paving swindles.
According to the CSLB, a common sham setup goes like this: A Traveler knocks on a homeowner’s door, claims to have roofing material left over from a job just completed in the neighborhood, and offers to repair or seal the roof or driveway at a reduced price.
The con artist will then use a useless, watery substance on the roof or driveway, collect a cash payment, and then move on without revealing their phone number or address. Once the homeowner realizes no work has been done, and that they have been scammed, it is too late — the Traveler is gone!
Other common Traveler routines, according to the CSLB, include sneaking a wet sponge or spray bottle into the victim’s home, secretly applying water to the ceiling, and they claim it is wet from a leaky roof.
Travelers also like to target older residential neighborhoods or mobile home parks and look for elderly homeowner victims who may not realize they have been defrauded until family members examine their bank records and discover that funds have been spent.
A Quick Security Tip: Many paving jobs completed by home repair crooks are done so poorly that the asphalt will crack, or even wash away, after the first rain!
What can you do to help protect yourself and your loved ones from these mischievous swindles?
The CSLB offers these home repair rip-off “red flags” you should be aware of:
1 -- Door-to-door solicitations from individuals related by family
2 -- An offer to do painting, roofing, or paving repairs
3 -- An offer to apply “sealers” to roofs, walls, concrete, or asphalt
4 -- A claim they have left-over materials at a cheap price
5 -- High pressure or scare tactics
6 -- The use of invertible names, such as mixing Charles Johnston Stewart and Charles Stewart Johnston
7 -- A reluctance to give an up-front price or a written contract in advance of work being performed
8 -- A demand for cash
9 -- Brand-new vehicles, truck-mounted spray machines, and out-of-state license plates
10 - Toll-free telephone numbers instead of local numbers
11 - Post office boxes, private mail boxes, and suites instead of local business addresses
Here is an actual case, as reported by the CSLB, of a home repair fraud: One suspected Traveler was arrested in California for contracting without a license. This unlicensed paving contractor, and three associates, all from the Midwest, arrived in California with paving equipment in tow, and checked into a local motel.
After they picked up asphalt from a supplier, they drove to a residence, offered to pave the driveway for an exorbitant amount of money, and then began work, which ultimately was below the industry standard.
The “red flags” in this scenario are that the contractor had no license, no local business address or phone number, and offered no way for the homeowner to contact him to resolve problems.
A Quick Security Tip: It is important to reiterate that only a few Travelers are alleged to be involved with perpetrating these scams.
For more details on this subject, please check out this website: www.cslb.ca.gov.
My Final Thoughts: These alleged lawbreakers travel across the United States and perform inferior, useless or even destructive work. And once the victim realizes that they have been bilked, it is usually too late to locate the fraudulent contractor. Your best bet is to avoid these shady characters in the first place by making sure you are doing business with an established, legitimate home improvement business.
Copyright 2009 by Bruce Mandelblit
Bruce (Mandelblit.com) is a nationally known security and safety journalist, as well as a recently retired, highly decorated reserve law enforcement officer. His email address is: [email protected] This column is provided for general information purposes only. Please check with your local law enforcement agency and legal professional for information specific to you and your jurisdiction.
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