Don't let thieves ruin your summer!
4 Summer Scams and Thefts to Avoid
by Jessica Graham
7 Marvelous Ways to Save Money on Summer Vacation
Safe and Sound on a Budget
Summer is almost here, but while you're at the pool resting behind your tinted glasses, thieves and scam artists have their eyes wide open looking to take advantage of the unsuspecting and uninformed. Don't let that be you.
According to the Federal Trade Commission imposter scams and identity theft were among the most common categories of consumer complaints received last year. Here's what you need to know to protect yourself.
Home Improvement/Home Repair Contractors
If you are undertaking a home or yard home improvement project, hire someone reputable and reliable. Just because an individual has a logo on their t-shirt or a business card does not mean they are qualified.
Before you hire someone, consider the following:
- Is the individual licensed? Each state has different licensing laws, but generally residential contractors are required to be licensed. Know your state's laws. To learn your state's licensing laws, do an internet search for "state name" and "contractor's license" or "contractor's licensing board." Often, you can also check a contractor's license history online.
- How does the price compare? Get multiple bids for the work you want done. If the price is unusually low, there may be a reason.
- You need a written contract. Many states require a written contract. But even if your state doesn't, protect yourself and get everything in writing. This includes not only the initial work agreement but also any changes made to the project as well. Refer to the California State Contractor's Board website to see helpful tips on what a contract should include.
- Verify the contractor's references. Don't just accept a contractor's representations about prior jobs. Speak to the references yourself and inspect the work either via photographs or in-person. Make sure that you are verifying satisfaction of completed projects. Unscrupulous individuals will often begin work on one home in a neighborhood and then use that project to drum up more business. Once they have secured more work and money, they walk away without completing any of the projects or they use shoddy workmanship to finish the original job.
- Don't pay for all of the work upfront. Again, know your state's laws. There may be regulations governing how much can be charged for a deposit. The remainder of the money should be paid in stages or at the completion of the project.
- Don't pay in cash, ever.
- Always get a receipt. You also need to review the receipt for accuracy. Does the amount you paid match what you spent? Is the correct name of the contractor or company on the receipt? Be sure to keep all receipts and other written documentation.
- Contact your state's contractor license board regarding any complaints or irregularities.
Mail Box Theft
Thieves steal from everywhere, including mailboxes. They steal from home mailboxes as well as free-standing postal boxes putting both your finances and identity at risk. The United States Postal Service recommends a few tips to help keep your mail safe.
- Don't mail cash.
- Don't let your mail sit in the mailbox overnight.
- Take mail into the post office or hand it directly to your letter carrier instead of using an outside drop box.
- Put a hold on your mail while you're away.
- If you were expecting financial mail or other important documents and you don't receive them in a timely fashion, contact the USPS and the sender to alert them to a potential problem.
You're going on vacation. You've put your mail on hold and a light on a timer. You're ready, right? Wrong. These aren't the only tell-tale signs a thief is looking for to alert him that no one is home.
The lack or presence of trash cans can be a red flag for thieves. Ask a trusted neighbor or friend to take your trash cans to the street and put them away while you're gone.
Similarly, you don't want fliers piling up on your front door or in the driveway. Also ask your trusted person to check for these as well as they can pile up quickly.
Even if you're not on vacation but are just out for a few hours, it's important to know that thieves scout for homes to break into. If you make a new purchase such as a TV or in-home theater system, break down the cardboard box. Leaving it sitting with the trash is advertising the contents of your home.
Local law enforcement agencies routinely offer this common-sense advice, "The most important thing you can do is call the police to suspicious activity. You have to be the eyes of your neighborhood."
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In this age of internet shopping, there are fewer door-to-door sales people, but they still exist and they aren't always honest. According to the AARP, older people are especially vulnerable of door-to-door sales because they are most frequently home during daytime hours. Nonetheless, everyone needs to be alert.
Make sure you know what you're buying. A sales person may demonstrate a cleaning or lawn product from a sample bottle and then sell you an inferior product.
Persons holding themselves out as small local businesses often go door-to-door selling their products and services. Before you spend any money, check out the company with your local business bureau.
As a final note, the Federal Trade Commission has a Three Day Cooling-Off Rule. If you made a purchase at your home of $25 more, you have three days to cancel for any reason. To learn more, go here.
Take the Next Step:
- Which scam do you think you're most susceptible to? And what have you learned to protect yourself?
- Do you know how burglars think? Don't miss as a burglar reveals 15 trade secrets.
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