Recently, we had a call to our office and it went something like this:
"An inspector from my insurance company came by and told me that my windows were not compliant with the requirements for my policy. He said that I need storm windows or I will not be covered for storm damage.
"He then gave me a card for a company that can get my windows up to where they need to be. It is going to cost thousands of dollars. Do you know if there have been changes to window requirements for insurance?"
Seniors vs. Crime started investigating. Was this true? None of us had heard about it.
We contacted the insurance company and, sure enough, they had not sent an "inspector."
We then called the agency that we always call about building code specifications, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. There had been no such change for code requirement for storm windows.
The people going door to door were working as a team. One would pose as an inspector, while the other would be from the "business" you would end up calling from the card you are given from the first person.
Of course, pretending to be an inspector is illegal, but trying to sell storm windows and/or doors is not. That part falls under "buyer beware." I know that this scheme sounds transparent, but these people are very convincing.
If you see someone outside your door, do not open it. Ask the person what he or she wants, and if you are warned about the window regulations, let the person know you are not interested and then call the police. To put your mind at ease, also call your homeowners insurance company and verify your coverage.
Another variation we have seen is one involving windshields. This scam works like this:
People come to your home and leave you information about windshield repair. For most auto insurance holders, this is something covered without a co-pay. You have not seen anything wrong with your windshield but you take the card into your home just in case.
Within a week, you get a crack in your windshield. What a coincidence! Luckily, you have this business card that says this company can repair your windshield at your home and bill your insurance directly with no cost to you.
This has actually happened. In fact, many people in the same neighborhood had issues with their windshields at the same time. Being good neighbors, people caught on and notified the police. These crooks, who have been caught, were using some kind of tool that added a bit of air into the glass and would cause a crack when you hit a bump. They were caught because people were communicating with each other and looking out for their neighbors.
Along the same vein, crooks read obituaries. They look for people who have recently lost their spouses and try to sell them home repairs - generally large jobs like roofing. The theory is that the person will have money from a life insurance policy, and that you are an easy target because you are grieving and do not want the added stress of home repair. In addition, the crooks are preying on seniors who have had someone with whom to discuss these kinds of situations and now are making these decisions alone.
The scammers look for names of children in the obituary and pretend to know the family. They will offer help, maybe giving you a "really good deal" on that needed home repair. Again, this is an opportunity for you to watch out for your friends and neighbors who may have suffered a recent loss.
Remember, for people to solicit to you at home, they must have a solicitor/business license. They must also have an appointment, or be invited. The exception to this rule are nonprofit organizations.
Seniors vs. Crime does not tell you these things so that you live in fear. We tell you so that you have the knowledge of scams happening in the area around you. It is our hope that an informed public will limit the number of victims.
Looking out for one another is also important. I know there is a fine line between being a "nosy neighbor" and a "diligent" one. I guide myself by "what I would want my neighbors to do for me." So, if you see something truly suspicious, please call the police. Your neighbors will thank you and the word will get out that your area is not one to target. The key to being safe is being educated and aware. You can contact Seniors vs. Crime if you have questions about scams by calling (904) 721-6516 or (800) 203-3099, or by going online to Seniorsvscrime.com and clicking on the "Request Help" link on the left.ABOUT SENIORS VS. CRIMESeniors vs. Crime is a special project that uses the force of the state Attorney General's Office and volunteers to help educate and protect seniors from harmful activity. On the first Tuesday of the month, we will highlight real cases that could help you and your family avoid scams.