Police issue summer scams warning

Local,DC,Naomi Jagoda
Summer brings with it an array of seasonal pests, and along with mosquitoes, gnats and jellyfish, local police are warning homeowners to avoid scammers pitching fraudulent home-improvement schemes.

A string of arrests around the region suggests that con artists didn't wait for Memorial Day to kick off their summer campaign.

Scams involving outside home-improvement work tend to be more common when the weather is warmer, officials said, and such scammers may zero in on the region because of its wealth and sizable elderly population.

Don't be a victim
To avoid falling prey to home-improvement scammers:
- Don't pay for services upfront and in cash
- Be wary of door-to-door solicitors
- Do business only with companies you trust
- Get a contract and read it carefully before you sign it
- Get referrals for work

"This is the time of year," said Ralph Vines, administrator at the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection.

Scammers, who are typically unlicensed and tend to target the elderly, likely will knock on victims' doors and offer services such as trimming trees, pouring asphalt on driveways or fixing roofs, officials said.

Many will insist on being paid upfront, and then they might never do the work or only partially perform the job. Others will perform services but overcharge or charge more than they initially quoted.

In Loudoun County, people reported this spring that a man offered to do yard work, required prepaid contracts and then, in most cases, never completed or even started the work, according to the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office. David W. Lawson, 35, was arrested in the case on May 22 and charged with one count of obtaining money by false pretenses and six counts of construction fraud, five of which were felony charges.

In Arlington, two men and a woman were charged with attempted obtaining money by false pretenses after they tried to scam an elderly woman on May 21, Arlington County Police Det. Leo Bello said.

The suspects had called the victim before they arrived, so police were able to come to the woman's home and watch one of the men solicit the woman while the other two suspects were in a truck, Bello said. The suspects had no business or contractor's licenses.

Scammers could get more than $100,000 for several jobs at the same home over a period of time, Bello said.

The victims tend to be elderly. Alexandria Police spokesman Jody Donaldson said this is because older residents "can't do the work themselves."

The Better Business Bureau office that includes the Washington area received about 4,600 complaints about home-improvement contractors in 2011, a 10 percent increase from the year before, according to its president and CEO, Ed Johnson.

Johnson said complaints against contractors may have increased because the bad economy has led to an increase in scammer activity and because people are starting to do projects that were put off due to the economic downturn.

Bello said the D.C. area is targeted in particular because it has a sizable elderly population that includes retired military and government workers. The retirees' savings is especially enticing to scammers.

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