Elliot Greenblott: Fraud Watch: Fraud is in bloom with the flowers

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With the arrival of spring (in most places), the time has come to focus on a new season of scams. Scammers are truly professional when it comes to targeting fraud and this means they focus on two spring topics that are of general interest: home repairs and car purchases. Before delving into these topics, let's consider some critical tips that apply to these scams and to most areas of fraud.

Tip #1 - THINK. Many victims of fraud allow emotions to drive decision making and scammers love it. Generally, emotion-based reaction leads to losses, so use common sense and rational thought in making decisions. Second - there is no such thing as guaranteed gain or win. If there was, we'd all be millionaires and the New York Yankees would be on the verge of their 30th consecutive World Series Title. Third - IF an offer is too good to be true, it is just that, too good to be true. Finally (for now) - RESEARCH. Before jumping into a financial deal or purchase, be sure to conduct a thorough review of the offer.

Our first seasonal scam involves home repairs or maintenance. Beware of any contractor arriving at your home uninvited and offering great deals on driveway repairs, landscaping, roof repair or exterior siding. These scammers cruise neighborhoods with offers of immediate, high quality, low cost work. They know homeowners want to clean up home exteriors and often seek to do it at bargain prices. Quite often the scammers claim to offer low prices because they have extra materials left over from local jobs. They drive non-descript pickup trucks bearing no identification or phone number, have no business card, and offer special deals that must be taken immediately.

What should the homeowner do? Take things slowly. Ask for the following: the company name, contact information, proof of insurance, proof of any necessary licenses, and a written estimate of cost identifying the work to be completed with a timeline. Legitimate contractors will have no problem with these conditions or with your request to provide local references. You may also wish to contact local law enforcement, the Better Business Bureau, or Chamber of Commerce and ask about any problems or complaints.

Another big area of springtime expense and potential fraud involves automobile purchases. Many manufacturers are beginning to roll out the 2020 models and dealers seek to sell off both new and used cars to make way for an updated inventory. Most car dealers are honest and possess good reputations. That said, there are some who are not. In addition, there is an increasing tendency to make purchases online or using social media and shopping websites. As purchaser, you need to be assured that the vehicle is not stolen and does not have a history of repairs. In addition, you want to be certain that it has not been damaged by flooding and moved to our area for direct sale to individual buyers or through unsuspecting dealers.

When making any car purchase, but in particular when buying a used car, don't simply take the word of the seller. If buying from an established business, verify the integrity of the seller through the Better Business Bureau or Chamber of Commerce. You can also check with the State Attorney General's Office for any complaints or violations of law. Be particularly careful in direct person-to-person transactions since the sale may be "as is" and carry no warranty. There are also online resources to check: www.vehiclehistory.gov provides information on the purchase of motor vehicle history reports; www.nicb.org/vincheck is a free service that can be checked to see if a vehicle (VIN) has been reported as stolen; autocheck.com and carfax.com sell vehicle history information that lists previous owners, repairs and can be provided by sellers or purchased by buyers.

Springtime may be a new opportunity for con artists, but patience, skepticism and due diligence will almost always protect you from costly decisions and falling victim to criminals.

Questions or comments? Email me at egreenblott@aarp.org and visit the website fraudwatchnetwork.org.

Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and the Vermont coordinator of the AARP Fraud Watch Network and can be contacted at egreenblott@aarp.org

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