GAITHERSBURG, Md. - Montgomery County police are calling it an epidemic of home repair and tree/lawn service scams. They are sounding the alarm and sharing the warning signs you need know to protect yourself from these fraudulent schemes.
Police said there have already been a dozen cases since March 1 reported to them about scammers taking advantage of the warmer weather and trusting homeowners who have fallen prey to their promises of a good deal on some fix-it work.
These scammers are going to homes and telling potential victims that they are doing work for a neighbor while claiming they noticed some kind of urgent problem, such as a dangerous tree or maybe some clogged up gutters. They don't hit every home, but these scammers know what they are doing and where they are going by scouting out locations along the way.
So what exactly are they looking for?
“They will hit a house that appears to be neglected,” said Montgomery County Police Capt. Paul Starks. “They will go to a home where they believe an elderly person lives. That person may not have all their faculties about them, may be intimidated and may just agree to get the job done so that person goes away.”
In fact, 11 of the 12 reported victims in Montgomery County were over the age of 70.
Police recommend always asking for a contract, asking for a card, and if you're in Maryland, these businesses have to be licensed.
Here are some more tips by Montgomery County police to protect yourself from scammers:
- Be cautious of door-to-door solicitors who state that they have extra materials or left over supplies from another job and can do the work, and they must start the work immediately.
- Be wary of a person/company who has no printed materials – no written contracts, no business cards, no bid forms, etc.
- When hiring someone to perform work around your home, do your homework:
- Ask for recommendations from friends, family, and neighbors.
- Take time to get 3 to 4 estimates.
- Check with your local Better Business Bureau and their lists of accredited businesses and reviews.
- Research if the company/person performing the work is required to have a license: In Maryland, home improvement companies and tree care companies must be licensed in Maryland to perform work in the state.
- Verify a business’ license status by calling the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection (OCP)at 240-777-3636. OCP has a record of merchant complaints online.
- Insist on a written contract with details on what work will be done, materials to be used, etc. If changes are made as work progresses, ask the contractor to amend the contract to reflect those changes.
- Be mindful of your neighbors and family members, especially those who are older and may be more vulnerable to these scams. Call police if you suspect that someone you know is about to enter into a scam.