Tips to share: Don't be the victim of a summer scam

With summer right around the corner, it might be time to get a jump on some repairs you’ve been putting off.

Or it might be time to plan that family getaway.

Whether it’s a new roof, lawn care or a trip to Florida, local business advocates warn homeowners to be careful.

“Bottom line, just make sure you do your homework,” said Keith Scott, president of the Baltimore Chamber of Commerce. “The last thing you want is to be scammed.”

Here's a list of tips to ensure you are not one of the thousands of Americans that might be conned out of money this year:

1. Check with the Better Business Bureau.

“They check every business complaint that comes their way,” Scott said. “If there’s a problem, they will know about it.”

Every year the BBB receives hundreds of complaints on local businesses.  If you have an issue with a potential business, go to http://www.bbb.org/greater-maryland/

2. Rethink paying for services in advance.

Many companies might ask for half of the money before work begins and the rest after. Scott said it’s ok to ask the business owner to wait until the end.

“There will be sometimes when they might need supplies in advance,” he said. “They’re working for the payday.”

Scott said it’s important to take things on a case by case basis.

RELATED: Things scammers say

3. Ask for references from friends.

Sometimes the best services come from friends. Make sure to ask them. If roof work was done, ask colleagues to see the new roof so you can see the work for yourself, Scott said.

“The last thing you want is poor work done on your house,” he said. “Observe the process in action.”

4. Ask for credentials. Check for lawsuits.

Check out sites like Maryland Case Search for potential legal activity. When meeting with a contractor, ask for proper paperwork showing they are certified to complete the task.

5. Create a paper trail.

“You want to have some record of your payment,” Scott said. “Creating a paper trail is the way to do it.”

Scott said given the rise in technology, look for ways to pay in anything other than cash. This will be useful if you end up in court and need to prove you paid for the services or did not receive them.

6. Stay home and examine the work being done.

Scott said when major home projects are being done, people tend to leave and not observe the work.

“Don’t do it,” he said. “ You have a better chance of getting quality work done by observing.”

Homeowners don’t have to be home at all times, but enough to show that things are getting done to your specifications.

IN FOCUS | ABC2 tracked down a business owner for his response to consumer complaints. Watch Wednesday at 6 p.m.

VACATIONS

For Angie Barnett, president of the Better Business Bureau, summer vacations can also give rise to scammers.

While getaways can be expensive, look to these helpful tips to ensure the deals you find are legitimate:

Prepare a budget – Planning is important. Make a little room in your budget by allowing for unexpected occurrences and emergencies.

Use credit cards sparingly! Avoid the debt trap by saving up ahead of time for your vacations by using cash whenever responsibly possible and being able to pay off any credit card debt immediately upon return home.  Credit cards SHOULD be used whenever a purchase of a product/service could be called into question such as lodging, tours or rentals.  

Be resourceful – Check the State Tourism Board or local Chamber of Commerce website where you will be vacationing for suggestions and links to recreational ideas and if they are offering “discount packages or coupon books” being sold directly through the organization (increasing the likelihood of valid “deals”).  Or consider a “staycation,” a vacation where you visit local/regional attractions but sleep in your own bed at night.

Timing is everything – If you do plan on traveling outside of your immediate area, aim for the off-season. Prices are usually substantially lower, and you won’t have to deal with the crowds. Off-season depends on where you are: summer can be a terrific time to visit a ski resort, where you can get nice rooms and all the non-skiing amenities for a fraction of the cost of a winter trip.

Choose lodging cautiously – Pull together many resources to choose vacation lodging – choose reviews you can trust, remember photos can be altered so look for sites permitting actual customer photos, and then use Zillow or Google Earth Street View to verify the property resembles the photos on the listing.  Lastly, always pay any lodging deposits with a credit card or through PayPal and avoid any offers of lodging discount if paid in full in advance of the vacation – this is a frequent ploy by scam artists preying on travelers.

Avoid unnecessary costs – Don’t find yourself trapped by additional charges or fees. For example, avoid hotel room phones, which often carry hefty surcharges. Pack as lightly as possible to avoid extra baggage charges.

Be smart – Vacations are prime opportunities for scammers – While attempting to avoid unnecessary costs, vacationers

often turn to free Wi-Fi hotspots in cafes or hotels. 

VIDEO: Free Wi-Fi may be scammer's way into your computer

Remember, scammers can give hotspots a similar or identical name to a hotel’s actual hotspot and wait for people to log on . . . . hopefully to check their bank account or other financial information.  Limit access to bank accounts or credit card accounts when using these free internet services and scammers will keep track of usernames and passwords to access the information at a later date.  

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