Top Three Spring Scams to Avoid

  
     
April 05, 2017

As bright springtime flowers bloom, so do new dark, weed-like scams. Scammers will be going door-to-door with plans to rip off local residents for services from discounted food deliveries to repairing weather damaged shingles. The Better Business Bureau serving Metro Washington DC and Eastern PA (BBB) advises consumers that now is the time to be on your guard.

Door-to-Door Meat Selling Scams:

When temperatures heat up, door-to-door salesmen start making their rounds selling any number of different products and services. While many door-to-door salesmen are honest, every year around this time the BBB receives troubling complaints from consumers who purchased meat from door-to-door salesmen and were dissatisfied with the quality or even claim to have gotten food poisoning.

When considering buying meat from a door-to-door salesman, the BBB recommends that consumers remember the following:

  • Do your research. Ask the salesmen for written material about the company and let them know you are going to research them first before doing business with them. Check the company’s BBB Business Review at bbb.org. Many communities have licensing and permit requirements for food vendors and for selling door-to-door; confirm with your city or county government that the seller is in line with the law.
  • Don’t fall for empty promises. The seller might claim to offer a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee, but many complainants had no way to contact the seller if they were dissatisfied. Additionally, the seller might claim that the meat is a higher grade than it really is.  Ask the seller to put in writing the grade of meat and then check it when you receive it – the packaging or meat itself should be labelled.
  • Never pay with cash. When paying by check or credit card, you have some measure of protection for your money, like canceling the check or reporting it as fraud to your credit card company. If you pay with cash and are dissatisfied, you’re at the mercy of the salesman to recoup any losses.
  • Know your rights. If you decide to make a purchase, ask for a dated cancellation form and a dated receipt. Note that the Federal Trade Commission Cooling-Off Rule gives you three business days to cancel the purchase. Saturday is considered a business day.
  • Consumers with questions about purchasing meat can contact the USDA’S Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854.
  • Report the bad guys. If you feel that you were ripped off by a door-to-door salesmen, file a complaint with your BBB. Also report any unlicensed salesmen to the appropriate city or county authorities.

Alarm System Scams:

No one wants to have their home burglarized and many homeowners pay substantial sums to have their homes protected by security systems. These scam artists, who are often from deceptive home security companies, comb neighborhoods looking for signs posted in yards warning that the home has a security system. They knock on your door and tell you the system needs to be upgraded. Once inside they give you the bad news that the system cannot protect you against today's modern theft techniques and they offer to "upgrade" your system. In reality, they are disconnecting your service provider and installing a system from their company. If you agree to the "upgrade" and sign their agreement you could be locked into a multi-year contract that can end with a costly penalty if you try to break it.

While there are trustworthy home security companies, it is important to be on the lookout for those unscrupulous few who are just trying to trick you into a worse off deal. In 2016, your BBB received hundreds of complaints against home security companies. Many of the complaints were about billing and contract issues, and poor installation.

How to protect yourself:

  • Never allow anyone into your home who claims to be from your alarm company without contacting the company first.
  • Ask questions.  If they are reluctant to provide specific answers, that's a red flag.
  • Don't be frightened by reports from them of an increase of burglaries in your area.
  • Never sign any agreement when you feel pressured to do so.
  • Do not sign anything that you have not read thoroughly.

Storm Chasers:

Spring can bring severe weather leaving behind hail-damaged roofs. After the storms, fraudsters known as "storm chasers" make their rounds. These scam artists sell themselves as roofing contractors. They go town-to-town, door-to-door, taking money for work, underperforming or not performing at all, and then moving on to the next town before the homeowners can get their money back. Homeowners can lose thousands of dollars in these scams. 

The BBB offers these tips before choosing a roofing contractor:

  • If approached by a contractor, ask for proof of licensing in your state, insurance and bonding.
  • Try to get at least three to four quotes from contractors and insist that payments be made to the company, not an individual.
  • Resist high-pressure sales tactics such as the "good deal" you'll get only if you hire the contractor on the spot.
  • Check out the company first with the BBB at bbb.org and deal only with reputable contractors.
  • Get a written contract that specifies the price, the work to be done including the brands and quality of the products used and a time frame for starting and completion.
  • Prices are often high in the immediate aftermath of a storm. Only buy the services that are necessary to make your home safe and habitable. Wait at least a few days to hire other contractors because the rates are likely to drop.
  • Pay by credit card, if possible; you may have additional protection if there is a problem. Otherwise, pay by check. Never pay in cash.
  • Be sure that all promises made are put in writing.

For more tips you can trust, visit bbb.org/dc and to stay up on the latest, follow us on Facebook and Twitter. To find out more about other scams, check out BBB Scam Stopper (bbb.org/scam). To report a scam, go to BBB Scam Tracker (bbb.org/scamtracker).