"I got scammed!"
Column #857 07/30/11
On The Level
Q. I always read your column and I want to tell you I was scammed by a driveway sealer company. First there was a knock on my door with a fellow offering to do my driveway. He said he had done a job locally but overestimated material needed. He said he had to just get rid of it. He offered me a rock bottom price but it had to be cash. I succumbed. He promised to return six months later to apply some non-skid. I never saw him again.
A. After I wrote a column a few weeks ago about the relative merits of driveway sealing and discussed the available materials and techniques I got a surprising amount of blow-back from all sorts of interests but your scam experience story is both classic and more common than you might think.
Scam artists of the driveway sealer type-- known to law enforcement by the politically incorrect term as “gypsies”-- will target an area using time honored hit and run tactics and will swoop in, nail a few susceptible home owners then disappear into the night. They are frequently from out of state and they prey upon the basic human desire to get something way below what might seem to be market cost. It’s one of the oldest tricks going and I’ll show you some red flags and maybe a few you didn’t think of.
The first clue was the knock on the door with the song and dance about having done a job locally and overestimating the materials needed. Professionals will never overestimate so much that the remainder would be enough to coat your driveway. Asking this clown for the address of the job he was coming from might have tipped him to take off running but he kept talking, you kept listening and when he got to the price he set the hook.
The biggest red flag was the demand for cash payment. No paper trail from him. The promise to return at a later date was a feeble attempt to gain more confidence from his mark. Once he got that cash in his pocket he was gone for good.
But the worst part of dealing with the character who knocks on your door offering the cash-only driveway sealing deal of the year is nine times out of ten the black goo this miscreant will spread all over your drive is adulterated with anything he can find to stretch the product and the most common is used motor oil. The junk will never dry and you’ve got an unholy mess. In your case it dried because I called you to ask you the question. The fact that he never appeared again is in my book just one of your blessings. You learned a lesson and dodged the gooey mess bullet. But those guys are still out there and are not likely to disappear anytime soon as long as human nature doesn’t change-- and it’s not likely to.
Most folks don’t know a few things about contractors like the fact that anyone who performs work on a house or property for payment without a Maryland Home Improvement Commission License (or electrician’s or plumber’s license or other professional licensed by the State) commits a felony. A contractor must show his license number on his contract, his business card, on all advertising and usually you’ll see it on the side of the work vehicle. So if you don’t see a contract or a business card with an MHIC number or see a truck devoid of lettering or a license number it’s a pretty safe bet you are dealing with an unlicensed actor. And when the demand is cash he’s probably in the gypsy camp.
Maryland law also states that a contractor may only require a third of the contract price at signing. But gypsies don’t sign anything. And they’ll want to see the cash before starting. The application of law usually only comes about if there is a problem but if the bad actor’s gone there is little that can be done. But law enforcement can and has tracked some of these guys down and for me it’s always a treat to read about them getting caught. You can look up on DLLR’s website to see if your dealing with a currently licensed individual.
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