Over the past few years, it seems that every time you turn around, you are reading about how the elderly are being taken advantage of or, at the very least, how the elderly should be aware that they could be taken advantage of. I tend to get annoyed by all the trumpeting about scam artists and how the elderly need to protect themselves against these predators. I have, in the past, looked on this as a bit of fear mongering and making the elderly feel more vulnerable.
However, just recently, I found myself the victim of a situation that could have been avoided and in which I was taken advantage, thus helping me to recognize that scamming can happen to anyone at any time. This is what happened to me.
I needed to have some trees cut: they were too tall and too close to the house and winds have started to become much stronger in our area.
I looked at the newspaper and called a couple of numbers. One person answered. He came over to give me an estimate. He had his nephew with him and he seemed like an okay guy, so we agreed that he would do the work.
The day he came over, he came with another individual, his brother, he told me. This man had a wild look in his eyes. He also brought a different kid. So it was the two men and a kid. As I recount this story, I am aware that the outcome is just as much my fault as anything they may have done. But the element that allowed the outcome was that I felt intimidated by their numbers and by the wild look in the “brother’s” eyes.
They cut down some trees — did not cut down the tree that had originally been the reason to call a tree cutter. But, and again, this is on me, when we had originally talked about that tree, we had spoken about cutting it down. On reflection, what with the fact that it was a hardwood tree and actually acted as a block should any of the pine trees behind it be blown down, I decided that I only wanted to top it off. They claimed that they did not have the equipment to do that. The main fellow offered to bring me real firewood when they came back to finish the job and then charged me an exorbitant price for the work done. I really do not know why I did not negotiate, but in part it was because this kid was in our faces and the the wild “brother” standing a few feet away. Oh, and the fact that they would ask questions like: “So do you live here all alone?” and had spent ALL day hanging around the house doing their “work.” All of that added up to my writing a check for an amount that I did not feel I should be paying for the work done.
They claimed they would come back the following week to finish the job, but, of course, I have not seen hide nor tail of them. And, I just gave them the money. I have called every single day, leaving various messages of anger, guilt-riding, threats, but to no avail. I will give their names to the Better Business Bureau.
What did I learn from this? Yes, one can be taken advantage of if one is feeling vulnerable. What can be done to avoid this?
1) Do not call someone cold turkey. Get a reference from a friend or a neighbor.
2) When you call, tell them they were referred by the person who referred them.
3) if possible, ask someone else to be there when the person comes to give an estimate and when you are ready to pay for the work.
At least this is what I learned from my very expensive lesson.
© Yvonne Behrens, M.Ed 2013