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Schneiderman releases tips to protect consumers from summer scams

by jmaloni

Press release

Mon, May 27th 2013 07:00 am

Schneiderman urges New Yorkers to report scams to the a.g.'s consumer hotline at 1-800-771-7755

With Memorial Day here, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has released a guide listing some of the most common summer frauds targeting the state, and offered tips to protect New Yorkers from abuse.

A growing problem during warm-weather months, unscrupulous scam artists prey on New Yorkers as they embark on home improvement projects and plan family vacations. Schneiderman urged New Yorkers to notify his office of any summer scams designed to dupe unsuspecting consumers.

"It's appalling that anyone would prey on New Yorkers looking to use the summer months to get ahead on home improvement projects or enjoy a family vacation," Schneiderman said. "My office is committed to alerting, educating and protecting consumers by ensuring they are aware of these seasonal schemes before any serious damage is done. Any consumer who has been victimized by a scam should report it to the authorities immediately so that we can hold wrongdoers accountable."

Among the most common summer scams are those related to unsolicited home improvement projects, including paint jobs and weatherproofing. Vacation rental and timeshare fraud are also common scams that target consumers in the summer months. Schneiderman urged consumers who believe they have been victimized by a summer scam to contact the attorney general's consumer complaint hotline at 800-771-7755 or online at ag.ny.gov.

Below is the attorney general's guide to protecting New Yorkers from summer scams, it is also available online here.

HOME IMPROVEMENT SCAMS

The Drive-Bys

"I'm painting a house (or a barn or a garage) in the neighborhood. I am paving a driveway (or patching a roof) around the corner. I have material left over and can do yours for next to nothing."

Too often this kind of offer results in a watered-down stain instead of paint, inferior shingles on half the roof, and a thin smear of blacktop on the driveway. These scammers typically demand a payment upfront and, if they actually finish the job, it probably won't last through the next rainstorm. Their guarantee? Good luck finding them.

"I was passing by and noticed you had some branches down. ... Your trees really need a trim."

Frequently, the branches are down because the scammer broke them off. If hired, they do work on "unexpected problems" that run up exorbitant charges. Too often, the scammers threaten consumers if the extra charges are disputed, and sometimes follow the owners to the bank for cash payments.

Weatherproofing Scams: $15,000 Solutions to $150 Problems

"Free basement inspections!"

When a community has been hit by a series of rainstorms, you can bet the offers for "free basement inspections" will start rolling in. The answer? It's usually an expensive pump or excavating the foundation to waterproof, when the problem was really clogged gutters or a drain blocked by root growth.

"Free chimney inspections!"

Same thing. This money-saving coupon will usually result in a recommendation for a new chimney or a "cleaning" that involves the sweep spreading soot around to make it look as though the work was done.

Tips To Protect Yourself

•Be suspicious of any unsolicited offer to work on your home. Taking the time to do some research now could save you time and money in the long run.

•Checkout the contractor with the local Better Business Bureau.

•Get references, particularly about jobs completed a while back.

•Use local companies whose addresses you can verify.

•Get more than one written estimate that includes details about the materials to be used.

•Check with your town or city to see if permits are required. Don't let a contractor work without the necessary permits.

•Don't assume the lowest estimate is the best deal. Check the quality of the materials.

•Be clear that you won't pay for any work not included in the estimate, unless it's agreed upon in writing.

•Always be sure the contractor has valid insurance.

•Check with your local Department of Consumer Affairs to see if the contractor is licensed. Licenses are required in New York City, Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Putnam and Rockland counties, as well as in the City of Buffalo.

•Always report a scam to local law enforcement and the attorney general's office.

VACATION SCAMS

Whether it's to escape the heat of summer or the chill of winter, everyone considers finding a good deal on a vacation a big win. Except when the good deal isn't so good. As consumers search the Internet looking for a good price on a dream vacation, scammers are trolling for victims to make a quick buck.

Here are some common vacation scams, and what you can do to make sure you're not caught in the net.

Vacation Rental Scams

The setup: "It's just what you wanted! A cottage overlooking a quiet lake; a beachfront condo; an apartment in the heart of the city."The problem? It doesn't really exist. Especially prevalent on listing sites like Craigslist, consumers are drawn in by a great deal, they pay upfront and arrive to find that no such address exists.

Tips To Protect Yourself

•Make sure the seller has a valid address and phone number.

•Use a mapping website to verify that the address exists and looks like the photos.

•Ask for references before signing any agreements or making a payment.

•Use verified payment sources, such as PayPal or a major credit card, which can be traced in the event something goes wrong.

Never make a payment using a wire transfer service such as Western Union or Money Gram.

Vacation Certificate Scams

The set up: You buy a certificate entitling you to deep discounts on flights, hotels or other vacation opportunities. The problem? There are many. You are paying in advance for a vacation at an unspecified time. The companies frequently are out of business before you use the voucher, or there are so many restrictions that it is nearly impossible to make reservations. And, use of the certificates is often dependent upon using specific, high-priced facilities that negate any other savings, or the facilities are not the quality they claim to be.

Tips To Protect Yourself

•Check to see if the seller is registered with New York state and with the Better Business Bureau for complaints.

•Check out reviews of the facilities available to the certificate users.

•Read the purchase agreement carefully, looking for cancellation policies and making note of blackout dates and other restrictions.

Timeshares and Vacation Club Scams

Although a timeshare or vacation club may be a legitimate enterprise, the marketing techniques frequently involve high pressure sales that trap people into long-term financial commitments they can't afford and may not use.

The set up: Firms offer free vacations if you agree to attend a presentation. Potential buyers are offered "discounts" if they sign up "right now" for a multi-year membership. The problem? The supposed discounts are frequently more expensive than regular offerings, the advantages and protections offered in the pitch are not the same as what's in the contract, and future costs and fees can escalate without notice.

Tips To Protect Yourself

•Never consider this an "investment." There is little market demand for resale and you will almost certainly lose money on it. In addition, the resale market place is rife with fraud.

•Never sign a contract for a multi-year commitment on the day of the pitch. Take the time to read it carefully, perhaps asking a lawyer to review it.

•Look carefully at how costs can change over the life of the membership or ownership.

If you believe you have been victimized by a summer scam, call the attorney general's consumer complaint hotline at 800-771-7755, or online at www.ag.ny.gov.

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