May 29, 2013

Editorial: Beware common summer scams


---- — Home upgrades and vacations are traditional summer activities for people in this area. Unfortunately, scam artists know that, and they are hatching schemes to take advantage of people.

The New York State Attorney General’s Office recently reported that home-improvement and vacation-rental fraud are the most common summer scams.

Sadly, older citizens are often targeted. They might be using hard-earned retirement funds for long-delayed projects or travel. And families can lose money that they have saved up for months as they planned home upgrades or vacations.

Always remember that a deal that sounds too good to be true usually is just that.

Here is advice from the experts at the Attorney General’s Office:

On home-improvement projects, which include everything from having a driveway sealed to major renovations, it is important to:

▶ 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.

▶ Check out the contractor with the 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.

The Attorney General’s Office says that scams frequently take place regarding vacation rental property that isn’t what it is billed as or savings certificates that promise vacation discounts but don’t deliver.

For vacation rentals, the consumer experts say:

▶ Make sure the renter 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.

If you have concerns about consumer issues, advice is available from the state Consumer Complaint Hotline by calling 800-771-7755 or online at

If you think you may have been ripped off, call local police and contact the area Attorney General’s Office. For Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties, that number is 562-3282.

Reporting fraud could save others from suffering the same fate.