The temperatures are rising, lawns are growing, trees are blooming, and residents are coming out of winter hibernation. The time has come for gardening, and parties, and swimming, and…big fat holes in the roof, amongst other unfortunate and sundry home repair needs brought to light by the shining summer sun.
What else comes out in warmer weather aside from birds and flowers? Scam artists, according to Weehawken Director of Public Safety Jeff Welz.
“Obviously folks can’t do home repairs in the winter, so every time the weather turns, the home repair con artists come out,” he explained.
“If you’re not expecting anybody, do not let them past the front door.” – Director of Public Safety Jeff Welz
“Here’s how it goes,” Welz said. “Person comes to your door. ‘Hi, I’m such-and-such contractor. I’m repairing your neighbor’s house and they have a leak and we can’t see it. We noticed you have a window facing the leak and we just need to look out that window.’”
The first mistake is to let them in, sort of like with vampires. You’re safe until you let them in, explained Welz.
“Unless you’ve got a neck you don’t need,” he said.
All joking aside, if people let them in, he continued, they usually don’t lock their own doors behind themselves, and as the “contractor” and the resident are checking out the “leak” in one room, a cohort lets him or herself in and steals from another room.
A second possible scenario might play out like this: a fake contractor comes to a person’s door and says they’re doing repairs on the neighbor’s water pipes, one of which just happens to run through that person’s back yard.
“They say they need permission to go onto your property, offer to show you the pipe, and take you down the alley to the back of the house,” Welz said. “And all of a sudden a second person sitting in a car across the street goes into your house, grabs and runs. By the time you come back around, the guy says, ‘Thank you very much,’ and a week later you can’t find your Rolex.”
Playing on fear and sympathy
Some con artists play on residents’ fears to get what they want. They’ll say they were driving through and noticed someone’s cornice was about to fall off and that it should be fixed before someone gets hurt. Or they’ll play the innocent, helpful, charitable con artist and suggest they get the repairs done as soon as possible – even if it’s not with their company – and then they offer a free consultation to confirm the danger.
And after the incredible gift of a “free” consultation, once again the Rolex goes missing.
“Sometimes they may play on your sympathy,” Welz said. “Someone comes to your door and says, ‘I need to use your phone! My wife is in the car having a seizure!’ So what you do is you make the ambulance call for them. You’re doing your civic duty.”
What to do
“Here’s the number one rule,” Welz emphasized. “If you’re not expecting anybody, do not let them past the front door.”
While contractors are not required to have identification on them, utility workers from electrical, gas, phone, cable, and water companies are, Welz explained. However, some con artists have created fake identification.
The second rule, he said, is to call the Weehawken police department immediately if there is any doubt whatsoever. The police know which companies are real and can confirm or deny the legitimacy of whoever arrives at the door. Residents should tell the solicitors they are going to call the police, and lock the door behind them before they do.
“Usually, they’ll run like the dickens if they’re not legit,” Welz said. “If they are, they’ll wait for us to confirm.”
Finally, one should never give out any personal information to anyone they do not know; including last name or even date of birth, much less a social security number or any kind of account number or password. This rule extends not only to in-person visitors, but to online and phone solicitors. Giving out information to the wrong person can result in identity theft, Welz explained.
“If in doubt, call the police,” he insisted. “I cannot emphasize that enough. And if you have already been the victim of a scam, please give the police any information you may have so that we can help prevent it from happening to others in the future.”
In case of an emergency, call 9-1-1. For non-emergencies, call the Weehawken Police Department at (201) 863-7800.