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Scam Targeting Habitat Homeowners

Last week, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer announced the arrest of Jairo Adolfo Rivera for unlicensed public adjusting in Collier County. Rivera is accused of approaching Habitat homeowners in Immokalee and offering them free kitchens and roofs if they signed what’s known as an Assignment of Benefits (AOB). Once this document was signed, the homeowners unknowingly gave him the right to file fraudulent insurance claims on their behalf.

While the fraud happened in Collier County, bad actors can show up anywhere. We want our homeowners to be aware of this event and be cautious of anyone soliciting in the neighborhood. If a deal seems too good to be true—it probably is. While some door-to-door sales are legitimate, many are scams in which the salespeople use high-pressure sales tactics and false claims to coerce consumers into buying products or services that they do not need or that are never delivered. Common door-to-door sales scams are for magazine subscriptions, medical alert and security systems, hearing aids and home improvement projects. Here are some tips to keep yourself safe from the Consumer Federation of America:

  • You have the right to refuse to open the door to anyone. In fact, it is wise not to allow a salesperson into your home unless you have a prescheduled appointment.
  • High-pressure sales tactics often indicate a scam. If you are feeling pressured, you do not have to be polite. You can interrupt, tell the person firmly that you are not interested and shut the door.
  • Don’t sign a contract or make a purchase on the spot. Ask the salesperson to leave you with some written materials to review. That way, you can take your time to decide whether you are really interested in the product or service, and whether you can afford it.
  • Never sign a contract without first reading it thoroughly. Make sure that you understand everything it says. If anything in it is unclear or different than what you were told, don’t go forward with the deal.
  • Always ask to see the salesperson’s ID. It should show the person’s name and the name of the company.
  • Be wary of salespeople who claim to be from your current utility provider or alarm service. Leave the person on your doorstop while you call the number on your monthly bill to verify whether he or she is indeed a representative from the company and the reason for the visit (e.g. to fix a service problem, upgrade your service or make a special offer).
  • Never pay in cash. Using a credit card is the safest way to pay because you can challenge the charges if you do not get what you were promised.
  • Get all prices, warranties, and cancellation policies in writing. Relying on what the salesperson says is risky because it is hard to prove later.
  • Know your cancellation rights. Under Federal Trade Commission’s “Cooling Off Rule,” you have the right to cancel a door-to-door purchase of $25 or more within three business days and receive a full refund. By law the seller must:
    • Tell you that you have the right to cancel the order within three business days for a full refund.
    • Provide you with a written summary of your cancellation rights.
    • Give you two copies of the cancellation form (one to keep and one to send if you decide to cancel your purchase).
    • Give you a copy of your contract or receipt.
    • Wait until after the cancellation period ends to perform the services or deliver the goods unless you have signed a waiver because of a legitimate emergency situation.

Some states and municipalities require door-to-door salespeople to be licensed or registered and may provide longer times for consumers to cancel. If the seller violates the legal requirements, it’s a danger sign of fraud. Report any door-to-door scams or violations to your state or local consumer protection agency.

If you are confused and the situation sounds like it may be a scam, don’t hesitate to call the Lee County Sheriff’s Office Crime Prevention Unit at 239-477-1CRU. Additionally, if you are a Habitat homeowner, you can call Habitat’s Director of Neighborhood Impact Daniela Rambhajan at 239-652-0333.