Scam Artists Target Homeowners

It can happen to the savviest homeowner. You get a call or knock on the door from a handyman or other service provider. They’re in your neighborhood servicing other homes and offer to clean your gutters, sweep your chimney, or perform some other maintenance task. They offer you a discounted rate, since they’re there anyway. Sounds reasonable. You agree.

The next thing you know, the service provider tells you he has bad news for you. Your gutters have completely deteriorated and the leaks are penetrating your siding. Or your chimney lining has entirely collapsed and is blocking the venting of dangerous carbon monoxide gases. It’s a dire emergency that must be immediately repaired! How lucky that they have the time to fix it right away. They call headquarters and quote you a price, then the home office phones and discounts it by a hefty amount if you do the work that day. About this time, the alarm bells in your head should be ringing loudly enough to wake the dead in the cemetery across town.

There is no emergency, and there’s probably nothing at all wrong with your home. Unscrupulous service providers target women at home alone with young children during the day, or the elderly. They attempt to scare them into agreeing to unnecessary and expensive home repairs.

This is not a rare occurrence. In fact, it happened to me only yesterday. A chimney sweep produced broken terra cotta chimney tiles and told me that my entire heating flue was 80% blocked and needed a $3800 repair job immediately to remove the broken lining and install a stainless steel sleeve. His home office dropped the price to $2800 if I had it done that day. The guys just happened to have the materials in the truck.

What they probably had in the truck were pieces of broken terra cotta chimney lining that they threw down my chimney to convince me I had a problem. I took their written estimate, sent them on their way and filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. Be on your guard for similar scams. If an unfamiliar service provider tells you immediate repairs are needed, do what you’d do if a doctor recommended surgery: Get a second opinion!