I hate getting scammed, especially when I don’t think I’m getting scammed.
Since I’ve been writing about fraud for decades, it burns my toast when I don’t see a swindle coming. Case in point: My wife and I recently got burned by a “craftsman” offering to do home improvements.
We needed a few simple things done: Fix and paint a rotting fence and install some trim in a bedroom. We figured he’d been in and out in a week or so.
These minor projects lasted most of the summer. Since he was a neighbor and always bemoaning his financial situation — “I’m going to lose my home” — we cut him some slack when we should have cut him loose. He would do 10 minutes worth of shoddy work, then turn up a week later. Seemingly manageable jobs were being billed by the hour.
I know. We probably should have turned off our sympathy meter and hired a licensed contractor. We were hoodwinked and should’ve known better. We’re weren’t alone, if that’s any consolation, according to the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), which recently compiled its top-10 consumer scam list.
The CFA surveyed leading consumer protection agency and scammed more than 1 million complaints. Here’s what they found:
- Auto: Misrepresentations in advertising or sales of new and used cars, lemons, faulty repairs, auto leasing, rentals, and towing disputes.
- Home Improvement/Construction: Shoddy work, failure to start or complete the job.
- Retail Sales: False advertising and other deceptive practices, defective merchandise, problems with rebates, coupons, gift cards and gift certificates, failure to deliver.
- Services: Misrepresentations, shoddy work, failure to have required licenses, failure to perform.
- (Tie) Landlord/Tenant: Unhealthy or unsafe conditions, failure to make repairs or provide promised amenities, deposit and rent disputes, illegal eviction tactics; Utilities: Complaints about gas, electric, water and cable billing and service.
- Health Products/Services: Misleading claims, unlicensed practitioners, failure to deliver, medical billing issues.
- (Tie) Credit/Debt: Billing and fee disputes, mortgage modifications and mortgage-related fraud, credit repair, debt relief services, predatory lending, illegal or abusive debt collection tactics; Communications: Misleading offers, installation issues, service problems, billing disputes with telephone and internet services.
- Internet Sales: Misrepresentations or other deceptive practices, failure to deliver online purchases.
- Home Solicitations: Misrepresentations, abusive sales practices, and failure to deliver in door-to-door, telemarketing or mail solicitations, do-not-call violations.
- (Tie) Household Goods: Misrepresentations, failure to deliver, faulty repairs in connection with furniture or appliances; Fraud: Bogus sweepstakes and lotteries, work-at-home schemes, grant offers, fake check scams, imposter scams and other common frauds.
The most basic defense is to get these services in writing, use a credit card and don’t sign up for something that’s too good to be true. As with our faux home contractor, you can pay a fortune and not get the service you need.