Panhandlers, scams and misleading advertising

scamsThe other day in an Uptown Waterloo parking lot a woman approached me and asked If I could give her some money. She said she had cancer and had to take the greyhound to Richmond Hill for treatment tomorrow. It sounded like a reasonable story but I had the feeling I’d heard it before so I gracefully declined.

There was a guy in UpTown who approached me three times in three weeks saying he was homeless. Then I saw him buying a mickey of vodka in the liquor store and found out from the clerk that “he comes in everyday”.

A few years ago a couple of ladies approached me in my company’s parking lot with the story they were out of gas. They said it was a loan, not a hand out and I gave them $20. I regretted it instantly and then again a couple weeks later when I was actually getting gas at a station across town and they were telling the same story to someone else.

I was so angry, I yelled at them and followed them down the sidewalk, yelling at them some more.

There are outright scams and borderline scams. There are people in our society who prey on our compassion and emotions.

Last spring, a man came to my door collecting money for a charity I’d never heard of. He had a plastic clipboard that he opened while he gave me his sales pitch. On one side of the clipboard was a form with a list of names and addresses written in longhand and amounts given in columns. The other side of the clipboard had cheques and $20 bills arranged seemingly haphazardly. Instead of giving him ten bucks, like many people would. I told him “No, I’ve never heard of your charity. I know nothing about it, so no, I’m sorry.” The whole performance was too choreographed and slick. Maybe because I’ve seen all kinds of sales tactics, some subtle, some not, that I get my guard up when I think I’m being manipulated. This wasn’t a scam. It was more of a con. And I felt bad later when I Googled it and found out that yes, it is a legitimate charity. (At least on the surface.)

But, I can’t be blamed. There are so many scams out there. Some of them, like the Nigerian Bank scam, have been around for ages; it predates the internet. I remember getting a fax from Nigeria in the early 90’s when I worked for a bicycle manufacturer in Taiwan informing me that with my help getting a sizable amount of money out of a Nigerian bank, I would be rewarded handsomely. That is an outright scam. But it must get results, it’s still going strong twenty years later.

I wrote here earlier about a handyman scamming Kitchener Waterloo residents, working for cash doing shoddy work. That’s a borderline scam. Buyer beware.

A friend of mine who rents out three rooms in his basement was scammed a couple of years ago. It went like this; he gets a response to the ad he posts through the University of Waterloo housing website from a guy who says his daughter is currently doing a work term in England but needs a place to live in Waterloo for a year, starting in September. “The place seems perfect”, he writes, “Can I send you the rent for the whole year?”

“Sure” says the landlord, “that would be great”. A couple of days later, a money order (for more than $4000) arrives and the landlord takes it to the bank.

A little while later, the landlord gets a phone call from the father. “Sorry my mistake, I sent you too much money. Can you please send half the money back to my daughter? Can you send her a money order for $2000? She needs it to buy an airline ticket to Canada and pay tuition…”

Long story short; the original money order is a fake and the landlord finds this out a few days later with a statement from the bank. He’s withdrawn $2000 against it so now his account is overdrawn. That’s an advance fee scam and there are a lot of them out there.

A few weeks ago I wrote about a well-known local realtor and his inaccurate and misleading website. If you’re an industry leader, you should be saying all the good things about you and your team instead of offering up fear and loathing of the other Realtors in our market.

It burns me up when politicians use attack ads based on fear and misinformation instead of taking the high road.

There was an interesting story in the newspaper about Kare for Kids charity selling chocolate bars for $3 where perhaps as little as ten cents actually finds it’s way to needy kids. It’s a legitimate charity. They do lots of fund raising. I’ve seen them in malls. But this sadly, is borderline scam. They’ve scammed many. They’ll likely scam many more.

It is too bad that we always have to be on guard for this sort of thing. Besides a dubious charity selling chocolates and a phone fraud targeting seniors. There are fake furnace inspectors calling homeowners and home renovators providing poor workmanship for cash. The schemes and hustles are too numerous to mention. We have to be on guard, they’ll always be a new scam.

But for panhandlers, we can wipe them out very easily by not giving them money. If they are begging in the intersection, on the sidewalk or like the two grifters I met – in parking lots and gas stations, don’t give them any of your spare change. Once they discover what they’re doing no longer works, they’ll stop doing it.

And don’t feel bad. We have awesome social services in Canada and in Waterloo Region. Give to charity instead and then the money will go to the truly needy for necessary things. Society will be a better place when we don’t have street urchin bothering us with their lies and fake hard luck stories about running out of gas or losing their wallets or needing bus fare to Toronto…

A few years ago, before I got rid of our landline telephone and was still getting calls from telemarketers, I accepted an appointment with an alarm company to come over and give me a “home safety inspection”. What a mistake. I don’t remember ever being sold so hard.

Just to get the salesman out of my home, I eventually signed the paperwork, after confirming that I had 48 hours to change my mind – all I had to do was fax in the contract with CANCELLED written across it to their office.

As soon as he left (he was still backing out of the driveway), I faxed the cancelled contract in. He called me about 20 minutes later and told me no one had ever cancelled a contract so quickly. I told him I had only signed to get him out of my dining room and that his company’s promise of a home safety inspection was a scam and should be reported.

An argument ensued. I should have reported them.

Last week, a friend of mine got ahold of me (on facebook) with a request. She was moving (from Waterloo to Kitchener) and wondered if there were any local movers I’d recommend. I provided her a list of three that were recommended to me. It’s important to trust reliable and honest movers with your possessions. It’s hard to know who to trust.

The moving business is an easy one to get into; all you really need is a truck and telephone and two guys – you’re in business. Ask if they are insured. Get details. Ask for references…

I’m reminded of a scam that happened last year. The Toronto police laid 160 charges against a criminal enterprise disguised as a moving company. They seized 12 moving trucks and estimated that this “business” was generating $1million a year.

The company, (operating under several names) would coerce their victims into paying a lot more than they originally contracted by renegotiating the contract on site as their possessions were being loaded onto the truck. The victims were told their possessions would be dumped, or left unmoved or put into storage until the bill was paid. If they didn’t pay up, many times that’s exactly what happened.

Homeowners were being targeted again recently by fake water heater inspectors. The door-to-door salesmen, dress like repairmen, say they’re in the neighborhood to schedule water heater replacements. They show you safety bulletins implying your water heater isn’t safe any more and that you have to replace it. Specifically, homeowners are being told that the venting on their water heater is a safety hazard, and the alternate water heater provider can install a water heater for free.

The company is also removing the anti-scald valve from the water heaters, even though the Ontario Building Code requires the valve be in place on replacement water heaters. Thirdly, the company does not make customers aware that if they are canceling their hot water heater rental contract with Kitchener Utilities, cancellation fees apply.

Kitchener Utilities have received numerous complaints.

I had a visit from a water heater company at my door last summer. The foot in the door was, “I just want to see how old your water heater is to see if I can save you money in energy costs”. I don’t know why I let them in. I’m a sucker, I guess. Of course my current water heater turns out to be old and inefficient and they are a Canadian company where as who I’m dealing with presently are not. I’m not impressed with that kind of con.

I had my gas meter replaced (for free) in a similar manner and then had to have it re-fixed by the local provider.

There is always a new scam, or a new twist on an old scam.

Your home is your castle. My advice: Keep your drawbridge up.

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