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Incidents put Valley residents on alert for con artists

| Monday, July 23, 2001

Red flags
  • Being asked to give personal information, such as bank account numbers, Social Security numbers, credit-card numbers.

  • Being told you have to pay to receive a prize.

  • Being asked not to discuss the deal with anyone.

  • Dealing with contractors with out-of-state license plates.

    If you have any doubts, call the police. Then report the incident to the attorney general.


    Where to complain
  • The Pennsylvania Attorney General's hot line for the Bureau for Consumer Protection is 1-800-441-2555.

  • Pennsylvania Securities Commission hot line to verify investment deals is 1-800-600-0007.

  • On the Web: www.attorneygeneral.gov
  • Summertime is prime time for con artists.

    In Buffalo Township, three men attempted to break into an elderly man's home under the pretense of discussing the replacement of roof gutters.

    Buffalo Township police said one of the men walked with the resident behind the house to talk about the gutters while another attempted to pick the front-door lock as a third man waited in a pickup.

    The three men left when the resident returned to the front of the house. Fortunately for him, they didn't get inside.

    There are many other examples. The elderly often are targeted for scams because they are often home during the day and tend to trust someone at their word. However, anyone can be at risk, said Mary Bach, Pennsylvania's state coordinator for consumer issues.

    'We don't want anyone to live in fear. We just want people to use common sense and be aware of what's going on,' said Louis Gaston, Freeport Police Department's crime prevention officer and director of the Armstrong County anti-fraud task force.

    Bogus remodelers

    Home improvement scams have been reported frequently lately, according to Barbara Petito, deputy press secretary for Attorney General Mike Fisher.

    In most cases, someone approaches a home and claims to have been working on a neighbor's home and have extra materials or have noticed some structural problems in the house. The scam artists - often wearing uniforms - then offer a discounted price for repairs.

    Such scams are often done by people in pairs or groups. Once the resident is distracted, others break into the home.

    'Females are frequently the ones who will approach the house in the first place while others enter the rest of the house,' Gaston said.

    Another common complaint is a worker will ask for the money up front and leave the work unfinished.

    'We've heard of people spraying colored water over the asphalt and leaving with the money. In a painting scam frequently reported last year, con artists would be gone within 24 hours and the materials they used would wash off,' Petito said.

    If it is legitimate, there will be references and lists of past jobs the workers have done. They also will have a permit.

    'They also should be listed in the phone book,' consumer issue coordinator Bach said.

    If work needs to be done on a home, experts recommend obtaining at least two estimates and references and getting a contract with a reputable contractor. The contract should include the details of the work including the start and finish time.

    'Payment should never be given up front,' Bach said. 'Usually payment is given over the course of the work, and a final payment is given upon completion. This gives the consumer more leverage.'

    If someone comes to your home claiming to need help with their car or something along those lines, Petito recommends that you tell the person through the door that you will call someone to help them.

    'It's a tough thing to do, but people have been getting hurt allowing strangers into their homes,' she said.

    Telephone scams are another common problem.

    Often the caller will claim the consumer has won a prize that requires payment for shipping and handling and tax.

    According to Bach, a frequent scheme is to tell the consumer there are three various prizes that could be won once money is sent in to receive it. The first two are often expensive and the third is something cheaper.

    One key in dealing with suspicious telemarketing calls is knowing when they should call.

    The calling hours are between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. They're not allowed to call after that, Bach said.

    'It's also a Federal Trade Commission regulation for the caller to give a full name, the name of the company, and state whether its a sales call and what's being sold,' Bach said.

    'All the consumer has to do is ask those questions and they have an easy opportunity to say no.'

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