Senior Brigade warns about home repair scams

By: Cari DeLamielleure-Scott | C&G Newspapers | Published July 15, 2015

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METRO DETROIT — ’Tis the season for summer and fall home repairs.


But as homeowners work rapidly to complete projects before the winter months, scam contractors might slip right under their noses.


On June 19, Glenn Clark, a presenter with the Michigan Attorney General’s Senior Brigade program, spoke to seniors at the Richardson Senior Center in Commerce Township about scam artists targeting seniors for home repairs and equity scams. The Senior Brigade program was established through the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division to provide resources to Michigan’s senior citizens, who are often targets of scam artists.


“Our parents and grandparents are truly our Greatest Generation and deserve to receive the best and most loving care,” Attorney General Bill Schuette said in a press release when the program was announced in May 2014.


The presentation was part of 39th District state Rep. Klint Kesto’s monthly scam prevention initiative. Eric Singer, a representative from Kesto’s office, said the presentations have been held once a month for more than two years. Presentations run the third Friday of each month and are open to anyone.


Clark said that because seniors have built up equity in their homes, they are often targets for scams.


“If you’re a senior, you might be a person who paid off their mortgage a long time ago,” he said, adding that homes are a huge, attractive asset.


Homeowners should be wary of “transient workers” who are “here today (and) gone tomorrow, or they may be here today (and) gone today,” Clark said. If a contractor doesn’t have roots in the state, homeowners should question who will be completing the work and whom to contact if there are problems with the project.


Prices should be the same today as they are tomorrow, and scam artists may urge homeowners to rush into unnecessary services or repairs and demand money up front. Some projects that con artists may push include painting, repaving the driveway and replacing the roof.


“There’s only one boss in a contractor relationship. It’s either you or the contractor. If it’s the contractor, then you made a mistake,” Clark said, warning seniors not to give in to a pushy sale.


Scam artists will typically employ three tactics, Clark said. The first is to offer a free inspection; however, he warned, it isn’t unusual for licensed contractors to offer free inspections. The second is to offer unnecessary, urgent repairs. Clark said con artists will tell homeowners that if they don’t do a certain project instantly, they will have future problems.


“Your blood pressure is going to go up, and you’re not going to sleep at night,” Clark said.


The third tactic that scam artists will try is to gain access into the home. Homeowners should never meet in the home alone with a contractor, Clark said. Instead, talk with them outside. If a scam artist gains access to the home, homeowners risk the person stealing something or scanning the house for a later home invasion.


If someone suspects the “contractor” is a scam artist, Clark suggested the following tips:


• Ask to see identification and write down the name and description of the individual.


• Write down the vehicle description and license plate. If you have a camera, take a picture.


• Contact a local law enforcement agency to report the scam.


• Tell friends, family and neighbors about the incident.


• Obtain and check the contractor’s references.


• Look up the business in a phone directory to see if it is established in the community. Avoid looking online because fake websites can be created.


If the job costs more than $500, the contractor must be licensed through the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, and the contractor must have insurance, Clark said.


“You never want to work with someone who doesn’t have proper credentials,” Clark said.


When agreeing to work with a contractor, homeowners should get a written contract that contains all promises and guarantees, as well as the start and end dates. If the contractor doesn’t follow through on the contract, the state can help enforce the contract, Clark said. Work should trigger payment. Homeowners should schedule payments as the work is in progress instead of paying the sum up front.


To learn more about the Senior Brigade program or to schedule a presentation, visit www.michigan.gov/agseniors.


Too see if a contractor is licensed, contact the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs at (517) 241-9288.


The next senior scam prevention presentation will be held at the Richardson Senior Center, located at 1485 Oakley Park Road in Commerce Township, from 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. July 17.

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