Boston Police Department issues warnings against contracting scams targeting the elderly

(Photo by Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels)

By Zeinab Diouf
Boston University News Service

Recent home repair scams have prompted police to place Boston homeowners on alert. In a Facebook post, the Boston Police Department stated that as warm weather correlates to a rise in contracting scams, residents are advised to take cautionary measures.

“As the spring weather approaches, there can be an increase in scammers offering fraudulent paving services or home improvement work,” wrote BPD in the post. 

“It’s the kind of work you can’t really do in the dead of winter,” clarified BPD Officer Andre Watson in a recent interview. “And that prompted the post we put up.”

Scammers will go from door to door offering various services, such as basement renovation, driveway paving and roofing repair at discounted rates. Seniors in need of home maintenance will oftentimes respond to these solicitations, suffering a loss of money for incomplete projects.  

“Elderly people have assets or cash on hand. They have different vulnerabilities — whether that be medical, like dementia or mobility issues where they can’t actually check the work that’s being done,” said Watson. “They also may not be as technologically savvy as someone who is younger and will actually be able to go online and get additional quotes.”  

A Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker Risk Report found that in 2021, 55.5% of people surveyed were conned out of money and time. An additional 44% of people, as an emotional consequence of being scammed, reportedly lost business confidence.

It remains to be seen whether these home improvement schemes are driving business away from legitimate retailers. New England Design & Construction maintains its customer base is relatively unchanged.

“The folks that choose to work with us get to meet us in person, speak with references and do a complimentary design consultation — all before committing to working with us,” said Suzie Dupre, New England Design & Construction’s assistant office manager, in an interview.

Boston residents are urged to research specific companies or individuals online to make sure contractors are authorized to effectively complete the services they advertise.

“If they’re licensed then you know they actually have had the schooling, the on-the-job training or whatever you need to do that particular trade,” said Watson.

The Attorney General’s Office, Better Business Bureau and the FBI are among many websites featuring discredited contractors against whom complaints have been filed.

Keeping an eye out for red flags — namely a reluctance to provide references, demands of upfront cash payments and threatening behavior — can also filter out potential scammers. 

“Any unknown person approaching you to do any work on your home should be viewed as a potential scammer,” advised BPD in the Facebook post.

If anyone believes themselves to be a victim of a contracting scam, they should notify BPD immediately.

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