This one costs BILLIONS, but nobody seems to know exactly how many billions. Why is that? Two reasons. (1) Many people are embarrassed at being played for such fools and don't report it and (2) many more people have no idea that they were scammed.

The most common of the Home Repair Frauds target roofs, furnaces, landscaping and driveways, but it's certainly not limited to just those things.

Here are some Do's and Don'ts for right now:

  • Do deal with a licensed plumber, electrician, carpenter or general contractor.
  • DO ask to see their license and then CHECK it's validity.
  • Another Do. YOU find them; don't let THEM find you.
  • DON'T pay in cash. Those who insist on dealing ONLY in cash are waving a red flag right under your nose.
  • DO ask to see a certificate of liability insurance and a certificate of workers' compensation insurance. Such coverage is required by law and legitimate companies carry them.
  • DO insist on a written contract that includes labor cost, product cost, specifics on material quality, specific information on how long the job will take to do, waiver of material liens (if material is included in your overall cost)
  • DON'T do business with anybody who gives you a written quote on a blank sheet of paper.
  • DON'T deal with a door to door salesman who insists on an instant answer.
  • DON'T pay in advance.

If, sigh, we are too late -- and you've already been scammed, report it to the FTC. Their address is:

Federal Trade Commission
Bureau of Consumer Protection
Pennsylvania Avenue and 6th, N. W.
Washington, D.C. 20580

or to your states Attorney General's Office.

Our own FFA team member Leslie is halfway through writing a book titled "123 Main Street" and we are borrowing one of the chapters, with her permission of course, for this page. It's just one example of what is actively going on across America. Every day. In every state. Against every type of victim.

Fight Fraud America
..."Schemes, Scams and Flimflams: 123 Main Street USA"

Genevieve W..
123 Main Street
Racine, Wisconsin

Genevieve W., after spending a long hour weeding her front yard pansy bed, went inside intending to pour herself a glass of iced tea and enjoy the air-conditioning while she drank the cold beverage.

She walked up to the kitchen sink and began washing her hands. Even though she'd been wearing gardening gloves, she was meticulous about keeping her hands clean. Genevieve was 84 years old and wholly believed that her continuing good health was directly linked to always having clean hands. 

The doorbell chimed at the exact moment that she turned off the water. She quickly dried her hands and went to see who was at the front door.

The man wore a dark blue Wisconsin Power uniform and carried a clipboard.

"Are you Ms. Winston?" he asked her.

"Yes, I am," she answered. "Can I help you?"

He smiled a warm smile and handed her a Wisconsin Power business card. "I'm with the Power company and this is a courtesy call. We've had a number of reports of rodent damage to the wiring boxes of some of these old houses in this area, so Wisconsin Power is offering a free look-see to make sure that you stay safe."

"Oh, I'm sure this house is just fine. I've lived here for 56 years. All of the electrical wiring was replaced in, hmmm, let me think ... 1986, I believe. Yes, that's it, 1986. It was the April before Wilbur passed on."

"You're probably right, but it never hurts to make sure. The wiring box is in the attic and it'll only take me a few minutes to check it out for you." The uniformed tech pointed in the direction of the back fence. "We just found problems in two of the houses right over there on Oak Street. Better safe than sorry ..."

"Hmmmm, if you really think it needs to be checked, the attic stair is right over in the corner here..." said Genevieve as she opened the door to let in the man with a white embroidered "Fred" on his shirt.

"The important thing is that you are absolutely safe," he offered with a smile as he pulled the latch to the attic and released the access ladder. Then, with his small tool kit attached to his utility belt, he climbed the ten steps and disappeared into the dark and musty attic.

Within less than five minutes he came back down the stairs. In his hand was a frayed wire, shredded as if from tiny teeth. "It's a good thing we got here when we did. Your wiring box has some of the worst rodent damage I've yet to see ...."

"Oh my Goodness," said Genevieve. "Are you able to fix it?"

"You need an electrical contractor for that, M'am, and by law I cannot even recommend one. What I can do, however, is provide you with three business cards for companies that can do the necessary work, and then you can choose which one you'd like to deal with." He pulled three cards out of his pants pocket and handed them to the stricken woman. "Please, for your own well-being, take care of this right away. That box is in really bad condition. If it shorts out, this whole house could burn down in a matter of minutes. I'm afraid those brown mice got you pretty bad ..."

"Thank you. Thank you so much," said Genevieve shakily as she closed the front door behind him.

"No problem. I'm just really glad I got here in time." And he was gone.

Genevieve sat down at her wooden roll top desk and looked at the three cards in her hands. Adams Electrical Service on Front Street, XYZ Plumbing and Electrical on Eleventh and Randolf and Sons on Monroe. Liking the family business image suggested by Randolf and Sons, she called them. 555-8041.

A deep male voice answered on the second ring. "Randolf and Sons. Bob speaking"

Genevieve identified herself and told Bob why she was calling. "How soon can you take care of this for me?" she asked.

"I can give you next Wednesday sometimes between one and five," answered the deep voice.

"Next Wednesday? But the man from the power company said this was one of the worst cases he's seen. He said that my house could burn down if there was a short and he told me it needed to fixed right away."

"You down there on Oak Street?" he asked. "Got more than a few houses down there ..."

"No," she replied. "I'm at 123 Main Street. That's a block north of Oak."

"Tell you what, M'am," said Bob, "we've got a truck just a few blocks from you now. Let me call him and see if he can possibly fit you in before he quits for the day. Hold on just a second...."

Genevieve heard some static, then a walkie-talkie like sound. "Sid, can you take another of those rodent damage boxes before you call it a day? We got a bad one over on Main Street and I told her I'd ask you." Slight pause. "Oh great. I'll let her know and get right back to you if we're going to do it."

"He's just packing up at the other job. He can be there in less than 20 minutes if you want him ..."

Genevieve sighed audibly with relief. "Oh, yes. Oh thank you. It's 123 Main Street and I'm here right now."

Twenty minutes later a white van with red "Randolf and Sons" lettering parked at the curb in front of the well-tended old home. A young dark-haired man in a yellow work shirt and carrying a medium sized black toolbox approached the door. Genevieve let him in, ostensibly relieved at the near instant service.

For the second time in an hour, the ladder was used, and the workman disappeared into the attic. He whistled as he worked, a tune from My Fair Lady that Genevieve found strangely comforting. Less than forty five minutes later he climbed back down the steps, carrying a frayed and sorry looking electrical connector. "I gotta tell you. This was the worst one I've seen. If I had to venture a guess, I'd say that you could have been toast before tomorrow."

In all of her 84 years, Genevieve had not felt so frightened. Or so lucky. She gladly wrote out a check for the $685 invoice, making it payable to Randolf and Sons, and handed it to the young man in the yellow shirt. "Thank you again for being here so fast."

That night she slept soundly and safely, knowing that her home would not catch fire.


"The rest of the story ...."

To this very day, Genevieve probably does not realize that she was victimized by a two-man bunco operation. Man number one sees an old lady working in a bed of pansies on a quiet street. He watches her for awhile and then calls man number two on a cell phone. A quick computer check reveals that she lives alone in the house, and that her husband died almost twenty years earlier. Man number one dons a dark blue Wisconsin Power shirt, available in many a Goodwill Store, and rings her doorbell.

Yes, he gave her three choices of contractors, a move that often lends credibility to a "courtesy" visit. All three numbers, however, ring to various cell phones on the person of man number two. If the red cell rings, he answers it "XYZ Plumbing and Electrical. Bob speaking ...;" If the blue one rings, he changes it ever-so-slightly. No matter which of the three she selects, it's "Bob speaking" on the other end of the line.

Man number two is wearing a yellow shirt, carries a tool box, and quickly puts a red magnetic sign on the side of his white van-- out of three choices of signs he has in the back. In the case at hand, the sign said "Randolf and Sons."

Scarce minutes later the duo has $675 for about an hours "work."

In a good day, they can target at least three seniors in an afternoon. Sometimes, while yellow shirt is doing the alleged installation, blue shirt is already setting up the next "appointment." In a great day, and with a little bit of phone-answering help from one of their girlfriends, they can do it six times a day.