Avoid These Summer Scams
Tax scam season might be over, but just because the tax scammers are off on summer break doesn’t mean you can let your guard down. A new selection of con artists peddling fraudulent product and service offers are hitting the market. Below is a list of the most popular summer scams so you can avoid them and spend your time and money on better things—like roasting the perfect marshmallow, finally building a treehouse, or buying your first kayak and taking it for a maiden voyage.
- Perfect vacation rental. How it works: You see an ad on the internet for an attractive vacation rental at an even more attractive price. It’s a deal that sounds too good to be true—the perfect location with top amenities (likely, the HGTV-worthy photos are stolen from Google, social media, or legitimate rental websites). To book it, the ad might require you to wire an advance payment. Or you may pay with a credit card. Either way, the contract won’t show up or, if it does, when you arrive at the supposed location it doesn’t exist, it’s an abandoned property, or it’s someone else’s home. So now you’ve paid the money and you don’t have a place to stay.
What to do instead: Only use dedicated third-party rental sites that provide renter protection—sites like Airbnb and HomeAway. If you can, visit the house or apartment before paying. Or search the web for the listed photos or copy and paste a few words from the ad to see if it’s been reported before.
- Home improvement special. How it works: A contractor knocks on your door and says he’s working on a neighbor’s house—tiling a bathroom, repaving the driveway, landscaping—and he happens to have leftover materials. He says he’ll redo your bathroom or fix your cracked driveway, etc. for a super low price. Or, he claims he was fixing a neighbor’s roof and noticed yours needs serious work. They will either take your money without finishing or starting the work or do shoddy work. These door-to-door fraudsters are more prevalent after hurricanes, wildfires, and other disasters.
What to do instead: Beware of all unsolicited repair or home improvement services. When looking for a contractor, be sure to get referrals or references, look for online reviews, look for the company on the Better Business Bureau (BBB) website, and verify the contractor has complied with your state’s licensing and registration requirements.
- Low-cost moving service. How it works: You select a moving company based primarily on a bargain-basement price from a website or flyer. You might not sign a contract, or the one you do sign may be incomplete (but you don’t know that yet). After your worldly possessions are driven away in a truck, the mover will hold them hostage until you pay more. Even when they are delivered, items are almost guaranteed to be broken, damaged, or missing.
What to do instead: If you’re moving out of state, verify the company has a valid Department of Transportation number and a carrier number from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. In-state movers must meet state licensing requirements, and you can check those, too. As always, ask for references and read the contract thoroughly.
- Free home security system. How it works: An unexpected salesperson knocks on your door and warns about a string of burglaries in your neighborhood. They say you're eligible for a free home security system—whew! In order to receive the limited-time offer, the salesperson pressures you to sign a multiyear contract for the company's monitoring services.
In another version, a person claims to work for your current alarm company and they’re upgrading customer equipment. The scammer will then install equipment from another company and trick you into signing a second monitoring agreement.
What to do instead: Never make a purchase above the price of a candy bar from someone who shows up at your door. If you’re considering installing a home security system, research legitimate companies on the Electronic Security Association website. If someone shows up claiming to be from your current provider, call and verify with the company immediately.
- Free vacation packages. How it works: An alleged travel company offers you a free vacation but then requires a fee or that you purchase add-ons. Or they may ask for you to “verify” your personal information and credit card number. This usually accompanies a claim that you signed up to win a free cruise at a local event or raffle. With your personal and credit card info, they can commit identity theft.
What to do instead: Never give out personal info to an unsolicited call or through an unsecure website. Verify the company’s legitimacy first, especially if don’t remember signing up for something.
- Student loan forgiveness. How it works: After college graduation season, scammers call and promise to negotiate with your loan providers to reduce or eliminate your debt, for a fee. But here’s the thing: there’s nothing an outside company can do for you regarding student loans that you cannot do for yourself for free through your lender. If you give the fraudsters your Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID, they could use it to take control of your personal financial aid information on U.S. Department of Education websites.
What to do instead: According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), it’s illegal for companies to charge money before they show results of reducing or eliminating a loan. While there are legitimate debt consolidation companies, it will always be cheaper, i.e. free, for you to deal directly with your lenders—private and government—to amend your payment plan.
- Summer job – no experience needed. How it works: These fraudulent summer jobs are advertised on hand-written signs on the side of the road, in the paper, on the radio, on a coffee house bulletin board—anywhere, really. Teen and college-age students are offered jobs that promise to pay well and require no prior experience. The students give out their personal information, including social security number and financial info, like a bank account and routing number, and then never hear back. Likely, their identity has been stolen and their credit ruined.
What to do instead: Conduct a thorough background check on potential employers before providing any personally identifiable information.