A new scheme discovered in Maryland has scammers posing as homeowners asking contractors to send money to subcontractors, who are actually the scammers as well.
Stacey Sauter, a realtor for Long and Foster based in Montgomery County, said at least eight contractors took the bait and showed up at one of her properties.
“I started getting a series of phone calls from roofing contractors, and they said, ‘I just want to check and see if this is legitimate,’” Sauter said.
The homeowner wasn't looking for a new roof, but someone claiming to be the homeowner was using websites like HomeAdvisor and Networx to get quotes for one.
“Instead of sending our salesperson, I figured I'd take a look at it myself,” said Paul Lombardi of Luna Remodeling.
He stopped by to make an estimate, but the so-called homeowner told him he wouldn't be there because he was hospitalized in England.
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Lombardi said a red flag went up when the man later asked him to wire money to a subcontractor for other work.
“I knew something was fishy when he wanted me to manage the interior people, yet I couldn't meet them in person, and I told him, 'I'm not doing anything until I see the interior person, in person,'” he said.
He called the number on the "for sale" sign.
“I called Stacey, the realtor, and that’s when she informed me, 'Yeah, it's a big scam. Thank God you called,'” Lombardi said.
An email from the scammer shows how the scheme is supposed to work.
The scammer agrees to pay the contractor $10,000 but wants to send the credit card number via email. He tells the contractor to keep about $2,600 for a deposit on the roof and then wire the rest to the supposed subcontractor. But what the contractor would later find out is that the credit card number was stolen and the money went to the scammer, not a subcontractor.
“Well, I was very concerned for my sellers because if one of these contractors slipped through the cracks and actually performed the work and puts a new roof on the property then realizes he wasn't going to get paid, whether it was from the legitimate owner or the scammer, he could put a mechanic's lien on the property, which therefore puts a cloud on the title, and that means we can't sell the property until that cloud has been cleared,” Sauter said.
“Make friends with the neighbors and let them know your house is going to be up for sale, you will be expecting people to come and visit the property, but you're not expecting any work to be done,” Sauter suggested.
No one fell for the scam this time, and Sauter hopes sharing her story will remind others to be vigilant in every aspect of their lives when it comes to anything involving money.
“So I thought, you know, you guys do such a great job getting the word out about these consumer-related issues that are a big significance financially and otherwise to people, and so I was really grateful for the response,” Sauter said.
The Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection issued an alert to the business community about this overpayment scam.