Texans Beware! It’s Always Christmas for Con Artists

Tree TrimmerMany Texans think that home-improvement scams are a summer issue.  That’s when someone might show up at your door telling you they can fix your cracked driveway or your leaking gutters.  Sadly, scammers work 365 days of the year. And, while they especially like to victimize the elderly, anyone can fall prey to their unscrupulous actions.

What a Drive-By Scam Looks Like

A common scenario is the following.  A respectable looking construction guy knocks on your door.  He explains that he’s just completed a paving job in your neighborhood.  Since he has leftover materials and is here anyway, he’s offering you a one-time good deal on driveway repair.  It’s that or take a loss on the materials.  That’s why, he says, he’s able to offer you such a great rate.  The guy’s story makes sense: you’d probably do the same yourself in his situation.  Plus, you are excited at getting a good deal on a repair you know has to be made sometime.  You say, “Go for it!”

It’s Always Too Good to Be True

Your door is there for a reason.  If you aren’t expecting someone, never open it.  Anyone who shows up at your door with a “deal” means it’s a deal for them, not you.  Here’s how the scam plays out.  The scammer starts working.  Suddenly, he “discovers” a problem that raises the cost of the job – sometimes a little, but usually a lot.  You don’t have any written contract, of course, and the scammer threatens to leave your driveway dug up (naturally) or with concrete chunks missing unless you pay to have the job “done right.”

Alternatively, you give the scammer down-payment money.  He then tells you he needs to run to the store to get just one small item to do the job right.  Again, you have no contract and the scammer leaves with whatever cash you gave him.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s the driveway, tree trimming, your windows, painting, roofing, or gutters – it’s always the same.  Bottom line:  if someone shows up at your door, it’s not to benefit you.  It’s to benefit them.

Let’s Think Bigger

“I’d never fall for some door-to-door sales scam,” you think.  That may be absolutely true.  But, let’s say you enter into an agreement to have your wrap-around porch repaired.  The contractor gives you a quote for $5,000 and requires $2,500 of that up-front for supplies.  The contractor does a little work on Day One, leaves, and you never see him again.

Or, how about making $100,000 down-payment for a stick-built house that never gets completed?  Or $50,000 for real-estate that never comes through?  Sometimes, the bigger the money involved, the less wary we are.  With real-estate markets expanding in Texas, there’s an increasing likelihood that you may consider getting a “deal” on a house, or unimproved land, or a rental property, and plunk down significant cash…only to receive nothing.

What Can You Do If This Happens To You?

It depends.

  1. Oh Well. If you have absolutely no identifying information on the scammer, you may have just learned an expensive lesson.
  2. At Least Someone Knows. If you do have any identifying information – say you wrote a check to the scammer or got the truck license plate – you have some data to provide the police.  The Attorney General of Texas also maintains Consumer Protection & Public Health Regional Offices which you can contact to report to report scams.
  3. Got ‘Em!  If you do have good identifying information on the scammer.  Let’s go back to the porch-repair and the real-estate transactions.  The Texas Deceptive Trade Practices-Consumer Protection Act (“DTPA”) at §17.41 et. seq. of the Texas Business and Commerce Code may offer relief.  The DTPA is often referred to as a “buyer protection” statute.  That’s because most sections of the DTPA hold sellers to a strict standard of truthfulness in marketing property or services.
  • In the porch scenario, if the contractor did minimal (less than 50-percent) of the work sold to you, he’s committed a deceptive trade practice.
  • In the real-estate scenarios, if you received nothing, you also have been the victim of a deceptive trade practice.

As an example of DTPA’s strong protection for Texas consumers, it is a violation of the DTPA for a seller to make “false or misleading statements of fact concerning the reasons for, existence of, or amount of price reductions.”  Remember our driveway re-paver?  Remember what he said about “having leftover material from a previous job” as the reason for his amazing one-time good deal?  Yes – that type of statement can be a DTPA violation because the scammer made a false or misleading statement concerning the reason for his great deal on pricing.

If you have been victimized by a scam, you won’t be shocked to learn that some of these cases can run into the thousands of dollars.  That should be sufficient incentive to make any righteous citizen look to the publicity of legal exposure to stop con men in their tracks.  There’s nothing like a hard wallop to their wallets to make them consider a little honest work for a change.

If you have been injured by a scammer, it is possible there’s nothing you can do.  But, if you – or someone you know, such as a parent or other relative – has been victimized, determine if you have any identifying information on the con artist.  Then consider that the sunlight of public exposure is about the only disinfectant which can rid society of these predatory scams.

Have you been the victim of a deceptive trade practice?  Have you been scammed?  If so, DON’T WAIT TO GET COUNSEL.  Waiting will not improve your situation.  The good news is, by taking prompt, early action, you are in the best position to assert and defend your rights.  Contact the Law Office of Robert B. Goss, P.C. today to a FREE consultation.

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