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Warm weather brings con artists
By Jane Driggs

Summer brings with it many beautiful things, but it also seems to beget more con artists who prey on homeowners, especially senior citizens. These scam artists show up at your door offering a variety of products and services - from household cleaners and magazines to tree trimming and roof repair. Some may offer to pave your driveway with leftover materials from a previous job, mow your lawn or remodel your house for a very low price.

These fly-by-night operators often drive vehicles with out-of-state license plates or set up temporary offices from which they can move quickly once authorities are on their trail. Many rush to communities that have had heavy storm damage and offer to immediately repair homes when reputable companies have a waiting list.

Before you pay money to anyone who uses this type of approach - and before you allow any unknown individual into your home - the BBB suggests that you do the following:

  • Obtain the name and address of the company that the solicitor allegedly represents. If the person does not represent a known business and the circumstances suggest an itinerant contractor or sales rep, ask for references and contact each one. A reputable business lists its name, address and phone number on an invoice.
  • Get all details of the offer in writing and carefully review them. Make sure you understand everything in the contract. Any verbal promises should be included in the document.
  • Make sure the salesperson has provided you with the proper "notice of cancellation" form as required under the Federal Trade Commission's "three-day cooling-off rule" for contracts signed in the home.
  • Verify that the contractor is properly licensed, bonded and insured.
  • Determine how long the company has been in business and call the BBB to determine the firm's customer-experience record.
  • If you have checked references and decided to hire the company, make the check payable to the company and not a salesperson or another individual. Do not pay in cash.

Remember, any legitimate company that wants your business will be more than willing to allow you the time to "check them out." Don't fall prey to high-pressure sales pitches, such as "this is the only chance you have" or "the extra materials will be gone by tomorrow." If you have an expensive repair, be especially cautions of these offers and obtain bids from several companies. Don't always go for the lowest bid - in many cases, you'll get exactly what you pay for.

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Driggs is president of the Better Business Bureau serving the Twin Cities and all of Minnesota and North Dakota. Check out companies on the BBB at www.mnd.bbb.org or by calling 651-699-1111 or 800-646-6222. Fill out complaint forms at www.bbb.org or send to BBB, 2706 Gannon Rd., St. Paul, MN 55116.

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