Summer is a prime time for scams that target consumers who want to repair or improve their property, rent a house or apartment, or even buy a puppy.
• Home repair scams: If storms have damaged your house or downed trees in your yard, be wary of people who unexpectedly appear at your door and offer you services. Some con artists travel to storm-damaged areas to prey on homeowners. They promise to do the work immediately, ask to be paid up-front, and then leave without finishing the job.
Before you engage any home improvement contractor, research the business. Do an online search, verify that the name, address, and phone number of the prospective contractor are legitimate and look for any customer reviews. Check for complaints on file with my office and the Better Business Bureau.
Get multiple estimates. Be wary of the contractor whose price quote is dramatically lower than the others.
Don’t make large payments in advance. Avoid contractors who ask you to sign over your insurance check. Arrange, if possible, to pay in increments as the work is completed to your satisfaction.
Get a detailed written contract that outlines the work to be done, the start and completion dates, and any verbal promises the contractor made.
Know your cancellation rights. Ohio’s Home Solicitation Act generally gives you three days to cancel a contract from a door-to-door sale.
• Rental scams: Summer is the busiest season for moving and traveling. That fact makes summer the ideal time for con artists to snare unsuspecting consumers in home rental scams. My office has received more than 40 reports about this type of scam so far this year.
Here’s how it works: A con artist posts an ad offering a house or apartment for rent. If a consumer responds to the ad, the con artist asks for a deposit. Consumers, who later realized that a rental ad was phony and that the con artist had no connection to the property, have reported losing anywhere from $250 to $5,000.
If you’re asked to pay a deposit via wire transfer, money order, prepaid card, or gift card for a property you’ve never seen in person, chances are it’s a scam.
Other telltale signs of a scam include rental offers at below-market rates; rental ads for properties that are listed for sale on other sites; landlords who offer to rent to you immediately without checking your credit; and landlords who claim they’re out of the country for business or missionary work.
I encourage you to check the county auditor’s website to verify who owns the property in the ad. And don’t send any money until you’ve seen the property in person and determined that the person communicating with you is in fact who he or she claims to be.
• Puppy scams: The summer months are a perfect time to bring home a new puppy. That’s why con artists post ads with pictures of cute puppies, ask you to wire money for a crate or insurance, and then take your money without delivering anything in return. Several Ohio consumers have lost hundreds of dollars trying to buy puppies online.
The best way to avoid puppy scams is to research breeders and sellers carefully. Check for complaints filed with my office or the Better Business Bureau. Never purchase a pet sight-unseen over the Internet, particularly from someone who requests an “adoption fee” or a “shipping fee” via money order or wire transfer.
Make sure the breeder or seller has the appropriate veterinary paperwork for the puppy. Consider adopting from a local animal shelter where the entire family can meet and interact with the animal before it’s brought home.
If you’re approached by a contractor you think might be unscrupulous, uncertain about whether an ad for property rental is legitimate, suspect fraud in an online offer for a pet, or have questions about any other suspected scam, contact the Ohio attorney general’s office at www.ohioprotects.org or 800-282-0515.