HELP LINE: A reader shares her tale of being ‘scammed’

I OFTEN GO on about scams. In my opinion, what follows in an email from a local lady was not a scam, but it is … enlightening.

Our gal needed some home improvement work done. I’ve edited for length and have deleted identifying references.

“… I called the number listed to make an appointment to ‘get an estimate.’ The first ‘tip-off’ when the appointment was being set were a couple of the questions that were asked: ‘Do you own your home?’ (That one seemed reasonable.) Then, ‘Will there be anyone else with you at the appointment?’ As I hung up the phone, I thought, ‘That’s an odd question,’ but shrugged it off. In retrospect I should have taken it as a warning, especially because I had said, ‘no’.

“A pleasant-appearing young man showed up a couple of hours early, on the appointed day. I had had a busy day and just returned from taking a load to the local dump, and to quote a good friend from earlier years, was ‘hot and sweaty, tired and crabby.’ It was late afternoon — the original appointment had been set for 6 p.m. By his coming early, dinner got knocked off the schedule.

“The pleasant young man came in with props of pieces of _______ they had removed from projects they had done. He assumed I had seen their ads on television (I only watch PBS, so I had not). He did his spiel, after he walked around the house and took photographs of the _______. This went on for quite a while and I was wondering when he would get to the money part of the pitch.

“If I would agree to several ‘deals,’ he could cut the cost by quite a bit. This went on and on and I was growing wearier and wearier. The final numbers were: $7,500 down, and $21,000 remaining to pay. They would come over to fix, repair and do whatever when called. And their product was fabulous.

“I learned a lot from this meeting (in retrospect). I was leery of making this deal, and told him I needed to talk with my sons. His response was, ‘Well, it’s your money, isn’t it?’ I did put the down payment on my MasterCard much against my will. From then on he was in more of a hurry to get me to sign. Oh, yes, he went to my credit ratings. (In retrospect another tip-off.)

“Early the next morning (about 3 a.m.), I awakened and said to myself, ‘You have been scammed.’ Well, I had the wrong word, of course, but I knew it didn’t feel right. I called MasterCard to find out if the company even existed and the person who took my call looked it up, and said, ‘Yes, it’s a national company,’ and did I want to stop payment. I said, no; however, as the day went on, I became less comfortable with that decision. But it was when I told my daughter-in-law the next day how much I was paying, that everything crumbled.

“While two of my sons (I have four) told me I had waited too long to do anything about this situation — by the time they heard three days had elapsed — and pointed out all the inconsistencies and that I had broken several rules about getting three bids (I had been a single mother with four sons and until buying this house had only rented, and therefore simply picked up the phone to call the landlord when something was wrong). However, one daughter-in-law called and said there was no such thing as ‘too late’ and that I needed to call the company and tell them ‘No!’ and if I couldn’t, she would.

“She did, and they backed off, but she suggested I follow up with a phone call and we went over her talking points, and I did, although it was an answering machine I talked to. I called MasterCard as well and told them to stop payment. They were fabulous — every time I called, the representative was clear, supportive and said MasterCard would step in, if necessary.

“Several hours after I had left the message with _____ Seattle office, I received a call from an employee saying they had my message, and I reiterated that I was not going to do business with them, if they set foot on my property I would call the police, and that I wanted my deposit returned and that I had called MasterCard. The employee said she understood. Last week, I received a letter from MasterCard stating that they had stopped payment on that billing.

“I have read your column for years now and the best piece of information I have had from you was about telephone solicitations — ‘If you didn’t call them, don’t answer.’ It’s clear and concise. I should have been more aware in this situation. I have talked with the local Builders representative and she has given me some tips of local contractors to contact, but also said her ‘line’ with any sales person is, ‘I have to think about this overnight …’

“I am writing you because I do worry about others in my age bracket who can be ‘worn down’ the way I was. He didn’t leave until after 8 p.m. — so it was a four-hour ordeal.”

Wow. A lot of us can relate, right?

Where I come from, we would have called this a “hustle,” but no matter.

I thank the reader for caring enough to take the time to write.

And, in my opinion, she did several things “right:” She listened to her gut, she enlisted the advice of trusted folks (in this case family, but it could have been any trusted person), she took action and she wasn’t afraid of being “embarrassed.” (Well, maybe she was, but she did it, anyway. Good for her.)

And that piece about “… I have to think about it overnight …” is right on.

If a quote/estimate/deal/offer is legitimate, it is highly unlikely that it all has to be done in a hurry.

Now, if you find yourself in a similar situation, and you’ve done all these things, then wake up the next morning and think to yourself, “I think this is the right thing to do;” then, by all means, proceed.

But if you haven’t — or, if you don’t — then, stop the deal.

Unless, of course, your ego is worth $28,000.

Mine isn’t.


Mark Harvey is director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information & Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing [email protected].

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