Scam artists targeting Arizona's senior citizens

by Paul F. P. Pogue

Barbara Price, a 74-year-old retiree living in Mesa, Ariz., says she was targeted twice for home repair fraud in 2009. After contractor Jeff Jones did some work for a neighbor, she paid him $2,500 to repair a squeaky floor. He crawled under the house and supposedly replaced pylons, she says, but afterward the noise got worse and Price never saw him again.

"Paying in advance was my big mistake," she says.

Some months later, Price says, contractor Abe Shepherd came to her door, offering free estimates on home repair. Although she was wary after her experience with Jones, she says Shepherd smooth-talked his way into a $5,000 advance payment.

"They're very, very good at what they do," Price says. "They sound so sincere."

She says Shepherd came back with materials, tore holes in the floor, then never returned.

Arizona Registrar of Contractors spokesman Tyler Palmer says Price isn't the only one who's been scammed by the two men. The ROC has received 12 complaints about Jones and Shepherd, both working under the name Shepherd's Home Service, since 1997. Neither man holds a contractor's license, and warrants have been issued for their arrests. All of their alleged victims are between the ages of 60 and 80.

By 2020, one in four Arizonans will be older than 60. Experts say scam artists typically target the elderly for home repair fraud or other schemes for a variety of reasons.

They tend to have money, and they're more likely to be home during the day and come to the door or answer the phone.

Phoenix Police Detective Toni Brown, who specializes in financial crimes against the elderly, says home repair fraudsters take the money upfront, then either do shoddy work or none at all.

"Most people are embarrassed to admit they've been scammed," Brown says. "Or they may not realize it until much later, if at all."

Kindra Waite, office manager for highly rated Chandler Roofing, says scam artists cause problems for honest contractors. "They're able to undercut our prices because they're not paying the same overhead and taxes," she says.

Rich Bourassa of A-rated New Life Roofing says he's seen an uptick of electricians and other types of contractors trying to do roofing because the economy's bad. Consumers may check a contractor's license at azroc.gov, which notes which trades they are licensed to work in.

Pamela Stevenson, a senior policy advisor for elder and veterans' affairs to Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, says Goddard began holding Senior Anti-Crime Universities in 2009 designed to teach senior citizens how to avoid fraud of all types.

"Don't go with the guy who knocks on your door unless you know who they are," Stevenson says. The office will hold at least 20 such events this year. Visit azag.gov/seniors for more information.

It's also important, Stevenson and Brown say, for seniors to receive support from friends and family members.

"When a family member's been victimized, don't victimize them further by telling them how stupid they are for being scammed," Brown says. "They already know that. Reporting a crime and going to court is very intimidating to our senior population. Be supportive and help them get through the process."


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