- Be suspicious of:
- Strangers who are overly friendly or who offer to share “just-found money”
- Someone claiming to be a “bank examiner” who requests your help in catching a thief — a real bank official won’t ask you to take money out of your account for any reason
- The well-dressed “bank official” or uniformed “guard” who offers to make your bank transactions for you
- Phony debts after the death of a loved one — check it out before paying
- Getting something for nothing and deals that sound too good to be true
- “Free home inspection” offers or door-to-door solicitations for home improvements
- Stop and think before you hand anybody any cash.
- Read and understand anything you sign, especially the fine print.
- Report to the police any crime, attempted crime or suspicious person or activity. If you have any doubts about something, report it — you may prevent a crime.
When approached by a charitable solicitor, follow these practices:
- Demand to see the solicitor’s proper identification.
- Donate only to familiar causes and organizations.
- Check an organization’s reliability by calling the Consumer Protection Hotline – Handled by the Office of the Attorney General, VA toll free at 800-552-9963 or at 804-786-2042.
- To find out more about the charitable organization and how much your contribution will be used for charitable purposes, call the Office of Charitable and Regulatory Programs (OCRP) within the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at 804-786-1343. All charitable organizations must be registered with OCRP.
- Beware of the smooth-talking salesman who comes to your home unannounced. Also, be weary of any phone call requesting a home appointment to give you something or asking you to participate in a survey.
- Be on the alert for the operator who poses as an inspector. If you’re approached in this way, ask for the person’s credentials and call the agency represented or the Arlington County Police Department (ACPD) at 703-558-2222.
- Watch out for bait-and-switch sales tactics. This is when a merchant advertises a product at a certain price or as possessing certain qualities, but when you attempt to buy it, you’re switched to a higher-priced or off-brand product.
- Fight the temptation of referral selling. This scheme offers you the chance to make quick money by supplying your friends and relatives’ names as prospective customers.
- Carefully investigate “free” or “bargain” offers. There is often a hidden trick or condition attached to the offer, which may result in you paying much more.
- Don’t be rushed into signing any papers. Carefully read, examine and understand all conditions of any contract or agreements. Never sign a blank contract or a contract with blank spaces.
- Don’t rely on verbal representations. Be sure that such promises can be found in the terms and conditions.
- Ask questions. Know exactly what you’re buying and find out what the product or service will cost.
- Know with whom you are dealing. Beware of the fly-by-night operator or the company without a local address. It’s safer to deal with a local merchant you know.
- Don’t hesitate to shop around. You may find a better price for the same product elsewhere.
- When signing a contract, agree to the printed terms in the contract, not to verbal representations.
- Always keep a copy of what you sign.
- Have all the blanks in the contract filled in before you sign it.
- Understand the contract before you sign it. Generally, there is no “buyer’s right to cancel” clause in contracts signed at a company’s place of business.
- Be suspicious of anyone who won’t let you take a copy of a proposed contract or agreement to someone you trust before you sign. Call the Consumer Protection Hotline – Handled by the Office of the Attorney General, VA toll free at 800-552-9963 or at 804-786-2042 for suggestions.
- Don’t accept the seller’s word that any part of a contract doesn’t apply to you (unless that part is crossed out on all copies and initials) or that something not listed will be done unless it is written in before you sign.
- Never give your credit card number over the telephone to unsolicited callers.
- Don’t put your account number on the outside of envelopes when making monthly payments.
- Keep your credit card number confidential—it represents your money.
- Report a lost or stolen credit card by calling the card issuer’s toll-free phone number. To limit your liability from unauthorized charges, follow the card issuer’s instructions explicitly.
- Be suspicious of a solicitor who says, “You’ve been selected …” or “I’m taking a survey.”
- Ask to see the solicitor’s identification and company credentials, including a County Solicitor’s License. If you doubt the solicitor, check with the local Better Business Bureau and the Office of the Attorney General, VA Consumer Protection Hotline by calling toll free at 800-552-9963 or 804-786-2042.
- Buy only if you need the item, not because you may feel sorry for the solicitor.
- Insist on a written guarantee.
- Take ample time to consider the purchase. Avoid any high-pressure tactics.
- Never sign a contract unless you completely understand it and know the total cost.
Note: Virginia state law provides a buyer of most consumer goods and services with three days to cancel a home solicitation sale after a purchase. If a “Buyer’s Right to Cancel” clause is not included in the contract and the company won’t accept a written cancellation, contact your local or State Consumer Protection Office.
- Shop around — get estimates from at least three contractors and check with people who had work performed by them. Call the Consumer Protection Hotline – Handled by the Office of the Attorney General, VA toll free at 800-552-9963 or at 804-786-2042 to determine if there are any complaints against the contractors.
- Check if the contractor has a County work license by calling ACPD’s Licensing Office at 703-228-4258.
- Before you sign the contract, make sure you understand the contract and that it includes the following information:
- A description and total cost of the services to be performed
- Types of materials to be used
- Start and completion dates
- Warranty information, if applicable
- Be cautious of companies that require advanced payments.
- Remember that the cheapest bid may not always be the best.
The County requires all home improvement contractors to be licensed and to show prospective customers a County-issued identification card on request. This includes installers of:
- Aluminum or other siding
- Concrete work
- Structural changes
- Fire damage repairs
- Kitchen and bathroom remodeling
- Swimming pools
Note: This licensing requirement doesn’t apply to landscapers or painters (except when the paint is to be applied to a roof or asphalt paving), or to licensed electricians, gas fitters or plumbers (who are licensed under a different provision of the Code). For more information, call the Arlington County Building Inspection Division at 703-228-3800, or the Office of the Attorney General, VA Consumer Protection Hotline toll free at 800-552-9963 or at 804-786-2042.
- To avoid a telemarketing scheme, tell the caller you’re not interested and/or just hang up the phone.
- Never give a telemarketer your credit card number, bank account number or Social Security Number, or authorize bank drafts.
- When listening to a sales pitch, remember the federal government’s Telemarketing Sales Rules:
- You must be told the name of the company, the fact that it’s a sales call and what’s being sold.
- If there’s a prize offering, you must be told immediately that there’s no purchase necessary to win, and you can’t be asked to pay anything for it. You can’t even be required to pay shipping charges. If it’s a sweepstakes, the caller must tell you how to enter without making a purchase.
- You can’t be asked to pay in advance for services such as cleansing your credit record, finding you a loan or acquiring a prize you’ve supposedly won. You pay for services only if they’ve been delivered.
- You shouldn’t be called before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. If you tell telemarketers not to call again, they can’t. If they do, they’ve broken the law.
- If you’re guaranteed a refund, the caller has to tell you all the limitations.
- If you suspect fraud, call the National Fraud Information Center at 800-876-7060.