snow

The author says that several readers contacted him about roving “contractors” who offered to plow driveways or shovel roofs. Unless there is an emergency situation, step back and consider your options. Predators will attempt to create crisis and overstate the problem in order to frighten the potential victim.

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As usual, December was an active month for scammers. Scam charities looking for “donations” seem to multiply in numbers. Scam pet adoptions, scam gifting, scam job offers, scam investments.

With the holiday now in the past, it is not the time to let down your guard.

On average, I receive between five to 10 email questions or scam reports each week. During the month of December, that number has jumped to between eight to 12 a week, and here are some of the issues that are very current.

Gypsy home maintenance

Several readers contacted me about roving “contractors” who offered to plow driveways or shovel roofs.

In one situation, elderly residents were approached about clearing snow from their roof. When the job was complete, the bill was $900 — maybe a fair price for a roof the size of a football field.

In such situations, some may consider this to be price gouging, while others see it as a scam. Regardless, it is a situation that calls for some clear steps.

Unless there is an emergency situation, step back and consider your options. Predators will attempt to create crisis and overstate the problem in order to frighten the potential victim. An overhang of snow becomes a sign of imminent roof collapse; an ice- or snow-covered driveway becomes an injury and lawsuit waiting to happen.

This is the stuff of scams!

Before committing to any work, ask for an estimate on the cost. Request local references to verify fair pricing and work quality. Also, don’t let anyone work on your property unless they can provide written proof of insurance with respect to the work and liability.

Finally, you may want to check with whether the business is registered with the state. If you feel you have been scammed, gouged or victimized, report the situation to the Attorney General’s Office and to local law enforcement if a crime was committed. In situations like this, restitution is more likely, as the perpetrators tend to be more local.

Electrical power shutoff

There has been a marked increase in scam telephone calls notifying intended victims that electrical service will be shut off “at midnight” if a delinquent bill is not paid. Rest assured, state law prevents this from happening unless utility companies follow a strict set of rules involving time periods and written notices governing this kind of action.

Another sure giveaway that this is a scam comes when the offer is made to take payment in the form of gift cards. Utility companies do not accept iTunes cards in payment!

The fake invoice scam

The intended victim receives a statement in the mail or by email for an item purchased online. The “invoice” looks authentic, including product name and stock number, price, date ordered and shipping date. There is also a phone number to contact the company, if necessary.

In one case, the following appeared on the invoice: “Your account has been debited with $799.99 and The charges might reflect within 48 hours. For any query or assistance please reach out to us @ +1 (xxx) xxx-xxxx” (note the grammar).

A call to the number has the intended victim informed that the order can be canceled by simply providing a credit card number to reverse the charge. The criminal seeks to obtain the credit card number, expiration date and security code, and then use the card for purchases. Ignore the invoice and report the incident to your attorney general’s consumer office.

The common thread in these examples is creating a sense of panic on the part of the likely victim. Panic, an emotional response, can cause individuals to act without thinking or using common sense; exactly what the criminal desires. Stepping back, thinking, verifying and consulting others in whom you trust can steer you clear of the traps.

Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and coordinator of the AARP Vermont Fraud Watch Network. He hosts a CATV program, “Mr. Scammer,” distributed by GNAT-TV in Sunderland, Vt.: gnat-tv.org.


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