Frauds & Scams
Home Improvement Scams
Be suspicious of contractors who seek you out. Don’t believe a contractor who tells you they have materials “left over from a job down the street” and he or she can pave your driveway or replace your roof for a “really low price.”
Find out what work the project requires. Knowing this will help you speak knowledgeably with other contractors and allow you to compare them on an equal basis.
Do not do business without a written contract. Be sure all guarantees, promises, and details are in writing.
Do not pay large sums in advance and never make a final payment until all work is completed to your satisfaction.
Check out contractors’ licensing and complaint history with the Virginia Board for Contractors (804-367-8511) and the Virginia Office of Consumer Affairs (1-800-552-9963).
Do not provide your credit card number unless the site is secure and reputable.
Look for indicators that the site is secure, e.g., a “lock” icon on the browser’s status bar, or a URL that begins with “https:” (the “s” stands for “secure”).
Pay by charge or credit card. If you pay by credit or charge card online, your transaction will be protected by the Federal Fair Credit Billing Act. This statute gives you the right to dispute charges under particular circumstances, including: unauthorized charges, charges that list the wrong amount, and charges for goods that were not delivered as agreed.
Be extremely skeptical of an email received from someone you don’t know.
Never click on a link embedded within any suspicious email.
Never respond to a request for personal information that comes to you via email.
Do not pay to collect sweepstakes winnings. Legitimate sweepstakes do not require you to pay “insurance”, “taxes”, or “shipping and handling charges” to collect your prize.
Hold on to your money. Do not be pressured to wire money or send it by overnight delivery. Con artists recommend these services so they can get your money before you realize you have been cheated.
Look-alikes are not the real thing. Disreputable companies sometimes use a variation of an official or nationally recognized name to try to confuse you.
Phone numbers can deceive. New technology can make incoming calls look as if they are coming from any city or even your own community.
Foreign Lottery Scams
If you play a foreign lottery though the mail or over the telephone, your violating federal law.
There are no secret systems for winning foreign lotteries. Your chances of winning more than the cost of your tickets are slim to none.
Keep your credit card and bank account numbers to yourself. Scam artists often ask for them during an unsolicited sales pitch.
Telemarketing Scams / Fraudulent Phone Calls
Don’t be pressured to make an immediate decision.
Don’t give your credit card, bank account, or social security number to unknown callers.
Don’t pay for something merely because you’ll get a “free gift.”
Check out a charity before you give. Ask how much of your donation actually goes to the charity. Ask that written information be sent to you so you can make an informed giving decision.
Don’t invest your money with an unknown caller who insists you make up your mind immediately.
Debt Collection Scams
Con artists call stating you owe money. They often use threats and intimidation so you will pay.
Reduce the number of credit and debit cards you carry in your wallet. If you use them, take advantage of online access to monitor account activity frequently. Report evidence of fraud to your financial institution immediately.
When using your credit and debit cards at restaurants and stores, pay close attention to how the magnetic stripe information is swiped by the waiter or clerk. Dishonest employees have been known to use small hand-held devices called “skimmers” to quickly swipe the card and later download the account number.
Do not give out personal information unless you initiated the call.
Take social security numbers off checks and other documents if possible.
Check credit reports annually (www.annualcreditreport.com – Do not use freecreditreport.com unless you want to be enrolled in a monthly service with a fee).
Mail bills at the post office or in blue postal boxes. Do not place bills in personal mailboxes.
Shred papers or cards that contain personal information rather than throwing them in the trash.
Stay alert and tuned in to your surroundings, wherever you are. Don't be taken by surprise. Be aware and be prepared.
Stand tall and walk confidently. Don't show fear. Don't look like a victim.
Trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable in a place or situation, leave right away and get help if necessary.
Choose busy streets and avoid going through vacant lots, alleys or other deserted areas.
At night, walk in well-lighted areas whenever possible.
Try not to walk or jog alone. Take a friend or neighbor along for company.
Get to know the neighborhoods and neighbors where you live and work. Find out what stores and restaurants are open late and where the police and fire stations are located.
Carry your purse close to your body and keep a firm grip on it. Avoid pickpockets by carrying your wallet in an inside coat pocket or front-trouser pocket.
Keep your car in good running condition, and keep the tank at least a quarter full; lock doors while driving.
If your car breaks down, raise the hood and place emergency reflectors or flares. Then stay in the locked car. When someone stops to help, don't get out. Ask him or her, through a closed or cracked window, to telephone the police to come and help.
If you're coming or going after dark, park in a well-lit area that will still be well-lit when you return.
Be especially alert when using enclosed parking garages. Don't walk into an area if you feel uncomfortable.
Never pick up hitchhikers. NEVER. And, don't hitch rides yourself.
Keeping Kids Safe
A great thing about kids is their natural trust in people, especially in adults. It's sometimes hard for parents to teach children to balance this trust with caution. But kids today need to know common-sense rules that can help keep them safe and build the self-confidence they need to handle emergencies
Make sure you kids know:
- How to dial "911" or "0" in emergencies, and how to use a public phone. Help them practice making emergency phone calls. Be sure emergency numbers--Sheriff's Office, police, fire, poison control, and emergency medical are by all phones.
- Their full name, address and phone number (including the area code), plus your work and cell phone numbers.
- How to walk confidently and stay alert to what's going on around them.
- To walk and play with friends, not alone.
- To refuse rides or gifts from anyone, unless it's someone both you and your child know and trust.
- To tell a trusted adult immediately if anyone, no matter whom, touches them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable.
Safeguard your children:
- Learn about warning signs that your child might be involved with drugs or gangs. Learn how you can help steer your child away from them.
- Spend time listening to your children or just being with them. Help them find positive, fun activities in which they can take part.
- Always about your child's activities. Know where your child is and when he or she will return.
- Be sure you and your child are clear on your rules and expectations for activities.
Home alone, what kids should know:
- What steps you want them to follow when they get home.
- Not to let strangers, adults or children, into the home for any reason.
- Not to tell anyone they're alone.
- That door and window locks must always be used. Be sure your children know how to work them.
- Not to go into the home if a door is ajar or a window is broken, but to go to a neighbor's home and call the police.
- Your rules about acceptable activities when you are not at home. Be very clear.
Safe At Home
If you're locked out of your home, can you still get in? Through an unlocked window in the back, or by using an extra key hidden under a flowerpot? Remember, if you can break in, so can a burglar!
Get to know your neighbors. Watchful neighbors who look out for you, as well as themselves, area front-line defense against crime.
- Make sure all doors to the outside are metal or solid 1-3/4" hardwood.
- Make sure all doors to the outside have good, sturdy locks--deadbolt locks with a minimum of 1-1/2" bolt.
- Use the locks you have. Always lock up your home when you go out, even if it's "only for a few minutes."
- Secure sliding glass doors with commercially available bars or locks, or put a wooden dowel or broomstick in the door track.
- Make sure your windows, especially at ground level, have good locks--and use them!
- Make sure all porches and other possible entrances are well lighted.
- Trim any bushes or trees that hide doors or windows. Keep ladders, tools, toys and recreational equipment inside when you're not using them.
- Don't hide your house keys under the door mat or in a flower pot. It's much wiser to give an extra key to a trusted neighbor.
- Keep written records of all furniture, jewelry and electronic products. If possible, keep these records in a safety deposit box, fireproof safe or other secure place. Take pictures or a video, and keep purchase information and serial numbers if available. These help law enforcement officials track recovered items.
When you go away:
- Ask a trusted neighbor to collect your mail and newspapers, and offer to return the favor.
- Leave word about when you're leaving, when you'll return, and how you can be reached in an emergency.
- Put automatic timers on at least two lights (and possibly a radio) to help you home look and sound lived-in.
- Alert your local police that you'll be away. Many jurisdictions will keep an eye on your property while you're away.
- Do not let the world know your home is empty by posting vacation plans, trips, etc. on social media sites (facebook, myspace, twitter, etc.).
Helping Victims of Crime
Don't blame the victim or tell him or her not to be upset, angry or afraid. Be a comfort, and do what you can to ease the situation.
If the victim hasn't told the police, offer to help with a report.
Offer to help the victim repair damage from a crime, replace a windowpane, install a new lock, replace important papers, or help with day-to-day needs like transportation, baby-sitting and cooking.
Be willing to just sit and listen to the victim talk about the crime. It can help some victims to talk, although others will not want to do so. Don't try to make a victim talk if he or she doesn't want to.
Ask your local police about victims' counseling and support groups in the area, and encourage the victim to take part.
Ask what you can do to help in the future, and make it a point to get back in touch.