Warm weather brings out potential con artists and greedy victims
Spring is finally descending onto our lovely Huron Valley. I could tell by my allergies and the bright yellow dust on all outdoor surfaces last week. While our noses run and our eyes itch, traveling bands of criminals will be heading north to ply their wares on the unsuspecting, naive — and perhaps a little greedy — potential victims.
Some of these criminals will masquerade as driveway re-surfacers. Wow — what luck! They were just down the road finishing a job and just happen to have enough sealant left on the truck to do your driveway.
AnnArbor.com file photo
With a wink and a nod, they will insinuate that their boss won’t even miss the little bit of sealant needed to coat and protect your driveway at a deep discount. The more greedy homeowner will think the worker has gone rogue on his employer and is going to steal a few materials from the boss so they can make a little extra cash. The homeowner will get a great deal at the boss’s expense.
This charming rogue can resurface your driveway for about a third of what real companies in the area will charge. Remember this probably is going to be a cash transaction because your new pal wants to keep it off the books so the boss won’t find out.
So, the homeowner looking for a great deal will agree to the project and then a few things will happen. First of all, the sealant is some watery black paint used to seal perhaps the undercarriage of a vehicle, not the thick tarry goo that really seals an asphalt driveway. Next, there may be a few scoopfuls of cold patch “ to fill in major leaks ” because the scammer did not realize your driveway was in such bad shape.
The unsuspecting victim will be cheated either by faulty repair materials or by extras added to the job and enforced by some rather large, rough-looking pavers who want payment “or else.” Intimidation is used to loosen up the wallet of those looking to get something for next to nothing.
Travelling “barn painters” and cut-rate roofers are another common spring and summer phenomenon. They, like their cousins in the driveway resurfacing business, use faulty materials and scare tactics at the job’s completion to make their criminal living.
Other fly-by-night home repairmen fleece their victims, by asking for some cash upfront for materials and then taking off to pick up the materials and never returning.
Take a look at who you are dealing with. Check the Internet, read the side of the truck for an address and phone number, write down license plate number on their vehicles. Are they from out of state? Copy them down and steer away from them.
The best way to avoid being taken advantage of when you need a home repair is for you to research what you need and drawing up a contract to make it happen. People who come from nowhere, are unsolicited and offer you a great deal on a home repair you don't know if you actually need, are out to make a quick buck and head for the hills.
Other strangers you will soon see in your neighborhoods — and who should be immediately reported to the police — are “students” selling magazine subscriptions. There also will be vacuum salesmen and the guys with pickup trucks with freezers in the back selling steaks and seafood. The meat and seafood is of poor quality — from dubious origins — frozen and thawed several times before it makes it way onto your grill. Call the police on these guys and have them checked out. Many do not have permits to peddle or solicit and many of the individuals hired to go door-to-door also have warrants. Do not hesitate to call 911 to have them checked or be reassured by the dispatcher those persons already have been checked out and are legitimate.
Another warm weather tradition in the area are the guys in the white van selling stereo speakers in strip-mall parking lots. These guys lead the potential customers to believe these are high-end speakers that “fell off a truck” or are otherwise “hot” — more likely stolen — and of course, a great bargain.
The fact of the matter is these guys will have receipts in their van for all the speakers when the police check them out. They scam their victims, by purchasing very cheap, junk speakers and selling them as to greedy people looking for a deal and not caring whether the items are stolen or not, as long as they are getting what they think is something for next to nothing.
The fact of the matter is you get what you pay for. A good basic barometer to determine if you are about to be swindled is this: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is and you are about to be victimized by a con artist.
The elderly and those with mobility issues also should be on the lookout this time of year for the criminals posing as meter-readers or guys from utility companies with unmarked pickup trucks. These guys will have work vests, hard hats and clipboards, hoping to gain access to your home in search of a leaky sewer line, gas line, or any other phoney excuse to target a homeowner not able to get around well in their basement.
They will then either head upstairs to get some tool or will have a partner sneak in and steal envelopes of cash and other valuables seniors have in their kitchens or office areas.
Legitimate utility companies will announce when they will be in the area and for what reason. Their personnel will be in clearly-marked company vehicles.
They will not mind if you call the police to have them checked on. Remember while doing so, to keep these “inspectors” outside until the police check them out or reassure you these workers are legitimate.
Keep your eyes peeled and do not get greedy this summer to avoid victimization.
Lock it up, don’t leave it unattended, be aware and watch out for your neighbors.
Rich Kinsey is a retired Ann Arbor police detective sergeant who now blogs about crime and safety for AnnArbor.com.