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Working With Customers Who Could Be Vulnerable To Scams

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How many times have you heard the old adage: “If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is?” It is as accurate today as it ever was, perhaps more so. Most people think they are a good judge of character and realize too late that the engaging person with an honest face, who offered them such a good deal, is actually a scammer.

A “scam” is a form of exploitation in which a stranger tries to cheat a victim for a quick profit. The preferred target is usually a trusting or naïve person who is financially unsophisticated. Often the potential casualty is someone who is elderly, widowed, or who has recently experienced a major, negative life event (divorce, death in the family, etc.).

Who Gets Targeted the Most?
Most scammers or swindlers prey upon older consumers, because they are likely to be home during the day. They are also more likely to be trusting, have access to more disposable income, and are less likely to take action when they have been defrauded. Some seniors are concerned that if they report having been conned, they may be judged as incompetent to stay in their homes and direct their own affairs.

Widows are vulnerable to scams, because they tend to be less familiar with home repairs. They also may be less familiar with their finances. Widows may feel soothed by an unscrupulous person who implies he will take care of everything.

Home repair scams are by far the most prolific of cons. The individual is often pressured to hire a contractor who implies the work must be performed immediately. The insinuation is that by not hiring the contractor now, the consumer may miss out on an amazing deal, or, may actually be in imminent danger.

Effective contractor rip-offs often share common basics:

  • soliciting business door-to-door
  • offering a discount price because he “has leftover materials”
  • creating a sense of urgency and pressuring for an immediate decision
  • talking too fast, making broad statements, speaking in confusing terms
  • driving a vehicle with out of state plates, driving a vehicle with no business name on it
  • offering a handshake instead of a contract

The number one tip off to a repair scam is the contractor asking for payment in cash, up front.

Working With Customers Who Have Been Scammed In The Past
Being scammed can hurt a customer’s pride, so be sympathetic to the victim without being patronizing. The customer made a mistake and already feels embarrassed enough. Use this opportunity to coach your client to be proactive when looking for an honest and reliable service provider.

Offer your customer time-tested tips to find the best company for the job:

  • research potential vendors (check licenses, credentials, and insurance)
  • ask for references; ask questions of previous customers
  • ask for an itemized, clearly written contract complete with deadlines, and payment schedules

Member Bob Helbing of Air-Tro, Inc. has advice for customers: “Check the website of your contractor. There should be important information such as contractor licensing, industry affiliations, and customer testimonials. Also check websites, such as Yelp, for reviews, and the Better Business Bureau for business complaints.”
Another resource to for clients to check is the Attorney General’s office in their state for grievances against a particular company.

Other useful information for the customer to gather to assist in the decision:

  • How many years has the company been in business?
  • Will subcontractors be used, and are the suppliers reputable?
  • Do you have the address of an in-progress worksite I can visit?

As a dependable contractor, you should be able to confidently answer all of these questions for the client. Also be prepared to show the customer that you and your company are:

  • easy to talk to (explain equipment and repairs in simple language)
  • prompt in answering the phone, keeping appointments, and meeting deadlines
  • organized and able to resolve issues and keep a neat worksite
  • trustworthy and responsive

Emphasize to your customer the importance of a detailed, written contract. Explain why it’s necessary for the contract to be comprehensive and to stipulate the parts to be used, the cost of labor, and the time frame agreed upon to complete the work. Recommend that the client have an advisor or trusted friend check the selected contract before signing it. There should be no surprises for either the consumer or the contractor.

A consumer who may be vulnerable to scams needs all the guidance a trustworthy company can provide. A consultation is an excellent opportunity to use your expertise to educate and inform your client. Anything you can do to prevent the customer from being the victim of a scam, or assist them in recovering from one will be appreciated. Now, that’s customer service your client will definitely brag about!

Melinda Wamsley

Posted In: ACCA Now, Customer Service

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