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Summer Travel, Moving and Home Improvement Scams

“Some of the best memories are made in flip flops.” – Kellie Elmore

Summer is a time for planning—it’s a fun time to kick back and relax on vacation. For others, it’s the perfect time to move, or to hire contractors for home improvements.

What are your summer plans? Did you rent a beach house for the week on the Eastern Shore or in the Carolinas? If so, did you rent from a reputable agency? Or maybe you’re getting ready to relocate your family to your dream home, or downsize to a smaller space. Does your mover or contractor come with good recommendations?

Whatever your plans, you don’t want to be caught off guard and become a victim of fraud. Here are a few pointers to keep your money safe this summer.

TRAVEL SCAMS
Every traveler’s worst nightmare is finding a great deal online for a vacation rental only to discover upon arrival that the address doesn’t exist. Or maybe the telephone number for the person who took your deposit is suddenly out of service. The truth is that the scammer has likely posted a fake listing with payment requested through a wire transfer—after you wired the money, all communication from the property “owner” ended. To avoid this situation, here are a few tips:

Good deal, or too good to be true? Vacation rental prices can vary based on size, amenities, and location; however, you should be wary of any rental that is offered at a deep discount.

Verify that the property exists. Run a search on the rental address or rental description. If the property in question is advertised in different cities, it’s probably a scam. You can use Google Maps or the Better Business Bureau to verify if the address and picture matches. Search the name of the property owner or business and look for bad reviews.

Never pay by cash, check, wire transfer, Western Union or similar methods. Scammers regularly ask for payment in full by these methods then take off with the money. It is almost impossible to recover your money once this has happened. Using your credit card will offer more protection. Another option is to book through a reputable travel agent or travel website.

MOVING SCAMS
Summer is a busy season for real estate sales and the most popular time of year to move—with many families trying to time their moves between schools and take advantage of the warm weather.

Be sure to pick a good mover to transport your belongings to your new home. As you begin your search, you’ll likely find hundreds of movers in your area. Before you book one, ask friends and family for recommendations or do a background check yourself by looking at Yelp reviews. You can even ask for references from previous customers.

You can also check the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Safety and Fitness Electronic Records System for reviews and complaints. Following are a few red flags you should be aware of before you risk the security of your belongings:

The mover has no phone or physical address listed on their website.

There’s no Federal Motor Carrier Number, which is a number that shows your mover is legitimate.

Your mover requests a large cash deposit. You generally pay upon delivery. If you pay up front, you have zero control over when you’ll see your belongings again. When you do pay, use a credit card that will help you fight any fraudulent activity.

There’s no in-home inspection or they want to charge you in cubic footage of your home versus weight and mileage. Reputable movers prefer to send a representative out to get a solid understanding of how large the job is.

They offer “too good to be true” pricing. Here’s what can happen: You get a low-ball estimate over the phone, and the movers show up to move you. After packing your possessions, they will refuse to unload the truck unless you pay extra, saying the price has increased because your belongings weighed more than anticipated.

Lack of insurance. Read the brochure “Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move,” which movers are required to provide. All moving companies are liable for the value of any goods lost or damaged during transport. Find out what kind of insurance the movers offer: Released Value (by weight) or Full Value (by replacement value). Full coverage may require you to pay extra, but experts recommend this. Homeowners’ policies don’t usually cover your property during a move, but it’s a good idea to check anyway.

HOME IMPROVEMENT SCAMS
Summer increases the number of dishonest contractors going door-to-door trying to sell such services, often taking your money with little to no repairs completed. Scammers will emerge after hurricanes, wildfires, and other disasters, preying on disaster victims.

What to Do If You Suspect You’ve Been a Victim of a Scam

  1. Contact Tower’s Member Service Center at 301-497-7000 or 866-56-TOWER.
  2. Report it to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.

Don’t fall for it! Be wary of anyone offering to do a repair unsolicited. When looking for a contractor, ensure the contractor is licensed and registered. It is also a good idea to ask for references from previous customers for any contractors you are considering.

Resources: Better Business Bureau, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Credit.com. Moving.com