Monday, July 2, 2012

Scam-Spotting 101. How to Spot a Scam.

Sometimes, as I say, stuff just falls in my lap, or in my mailbox.  One such example of smarmy, pseudo-free baloney did indeed get left on my front porch last week.  It was a handbill that built a carefully constructed castle of baloney.  Follow along with me here:

First, the handbill says, in big letters, “NEIGHBORHOOD RENOVATION PLAN” and underneath “NORTHWEST OHIO HOMEOWNERS ONLY.”  Doesn’t that sound exclusive?  Like you’re lucky enough to qualify?  But for what? And how exclusive is "northwest Ohio."  I mean, there's no boundary, and for government programs that are area-specific, there are boundaries--they have to be in certain zip codes, or census tracts, or counties.  But this doesn't specify.  Let’s keep reading: “YOU MAY BE ELIGIBLE FOR HOME REPAIRS-REVITALIZATION & FUNDING.”  What does that mean?  Everybody is “eligible” for home repairs—who wouldn’t be, as long as they pay for it?  And it’s  “may” be, not “are.”  And funding?  By who?  Notice that nobody is saying.  They are careful to cover their butts, however, by noting that they are not a government program (in much smaller print), and not part of the recent stimulus act. 

By throwing around words like “eligible,” “qualify,” “program,” “revitalization,” etc., they create the illusion that you may be able to get something for nothing, without actually getting in legal trouble by promising something.  In fact, when I looked up this particular business in the Better Business Bureau, they had been contacted by the BBB: “The BBB requested that the company modify their advertisement to minimize the possibility of misunderstanding by the reader and to provide a clear understanding of what the company is offering. The company failed to modify the advertising at our requests.”  No kidding. 

When you get handbills like this, a good place to start looking is in fact the BBB  website.  You can search by company name, phone number or website address and see if they have received any complaints, and what sort.  In Ohio, you can search by company name orkeywords on the attorney-general’s website to see if a complaint has been filed against the company.  If they say they know about “programs,” and imply “funding assistance,” ask what government office runs the program, then check your yellow pages or public library to see if such an office exists.  Better yet, call that office.  Don’t fall for obvious scams like this.

For places you might want to start investigating to find real home-fix up programs, try this.

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