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Confidence artists ("con men" or "cons" for short) are experts in human psychology and behavior. They know how to win over your confidence with their smooth talking and self-assured manner. Unless you are careful, you may find yourself turning over cash or buying worthless merchandise. You won't be able to recognize a con by the way he or she looks, but you can be on the lookout for some of their more common "pitches."

Use these links to learn about fraud:

Good Rules to Follow, Whether or Not You Suspect a Fraud
  • Don't believe "something for nothing" offers. You typically get what you pay for.
  • Be suspicious of high-pressure sales efforts.
  • Take your time. Think about a deal before you part with your money.
  • Get all agreements in writing when possible. Insist that agreements be in "plain English" not "legalese."
  • Read all contracts and agreements before signing. Have a lawyer examine all major contracts.
  • Compare services, prices, and credit offers before agreeing to a deal. Ask friends what their experiences have been with the service provider or service in question.
  • Never turn over large sums of cash to anyone, especially a stranger, no matter how promising the deal looks.
  • Do not hesitate to check the credentials of anyone who comes to your door.
  • Report all suspicious offers to the police immediately, before the swindler leaves town in search of other victims.

Property Tax Review Scam

Beware of mailings to property owners offering their services to pursue a reduction in their property taxes. These companies may charge hundreds of dollars to file for a reduction in value on behalf of the property owner. Some companies even impose late fees if the application is received after an arbitrary deadline. Be aware that solicitations from private companies offering to pursue a reduction in property taxes must clearly indicate that they are NOT a government agency and that their services are NOT approved or endorsed by any government agency.  Failure to provide such notice is a violation of California law.

If you or someone you know receives an illegal solicitation, please contact the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs.

There is no reason to pay for a review that has been done for free.

To see if your property has already been reviewed for a Decline-In-Value by the L.A. County Office of the Assessor. 

If you believe that your property value warrants review due to a decline in market value, you may file an application for Decline-in-Value Review [link]. If a reduction is warranted, the taxable value will be reduced. Please note that there is no charge for a review. Owners are urged to wait until July to decide whether to file an application.

Information may be obtained from the Los Angeles County Office of the Assessor website.

Additional valuable consumer protection information is available on the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs website.

Home Improvement & Repair Frauds

Home repairs and improvements can be costly. Watch out if someone offers to do an expensive job for an unusually low price, if a firm offers to make a "free" inspection, or if the workers just "happened to be in the neighborhood."  These are favorite tricks of dishonest home repair firms. Some offer a price you just can't resist. Once you sign the contract, you learn why: they never deliver the service! Others send door-to-door inspectors to do free roof, termite, or furnace inspections. You can bet these "free" inspections will turn up plenty of expensive repairs. Some fly-by-night companies will offer to do the work on the spot. When they leave, you may be left with a large bill and a faulty repair job.

Other repair frauds are simple to execute but difficult to detect. Some crooked repair people don't fix the problem, but they charge you anyway. Some use inferior parts. Others charge you for work that you didn't expect. Some even do "insurance" work by repairing one thing, but making sure that something else will soon go wrong.

Tips To Avoid Home Improvement and Repair Frauds

  • Don't try to diagnose the problem yourself unless you're an expert. If you do know exactly what the problem is, don't tell the repairer. Wait and see if their recommendations agree with your diagnosis. That way you'll know whether needless repairs are suggested.
  • Try to get several detailed written estimates before any work is done. Compare job descriptions and materials to be used. Be sure to ask if there is a charge for an estimate.
  • Ask for the old parts to make sure that replacements were really installed.
  • Make sure you get a guarantee on any work that's done.
  • Before you pay, make sure the work was done. For example, plug in your refrigerator and test your TV.
  • Check the identification of all "inspectors."
  • Pay by check, never with cash. Also, in order to ensure that the job is satisfactorily completed, arrange to make installment payments. A typical pattern is one-third at the beginning of the job, one-third when the work is nearly completed, and one-third after the job is done.

Various Con Games

The best bet for avoiding the con game is to recognize the swindler's moves. A few steps that should tip you off right away:

  • Somebody offers you something for nothing or at a surprisingly low price.
  • A stranger asks you about your personal finances.
  • You are asked to pay large sums in cash.
  • Someone asks you to help in a "secret plan."
  • A stranger asks you to withdraw your bank savings in cash.

It may not be quite as simple as that, though. Swindlers come in many disguises and they're creative. Watch for these additional warning signs:

  • High-pressure telephone sales efforts.
  • The investment seems too good to be true.
  • The emphasis is on setting up dealerships rather than selling a product.
  • Potential investors are not encouraged (or allowed) to contact other investors.
  • The promoter does not offer to "buy back" any unsold merchandise.
  • You get a large quick return on the money you gave to a promoter.
Type of Con
About the Con

Door-to-door Sales Tactics and Phrases

  • "Small monthly payments" - used to disguise the total cost of an item, which is usually outrageous.
  • "Nothing like it in the stores" or "Won't find this price anywhere" - meant to pressure you into an on-the-spot sale.
  • "Easy credit" - cons don't care what your credit rating is because, once you sign for the purchase, paying for it is your problem.

California law provides for a "Three Day Cooling Off Period" for sales over $25 made in the home. You have three days in which you may cancel the contract and receive back any down payment with no penalties. A cancellation form must be included with your contract.

If you follow these tips, you'll make things hard for the swindler, and you could save yourself a lot of money.

The "Pigeon Drop"

You are waiting for the bus or train and a person starts a friendly conversation. He/she has just found a large sum of money on the way from work. What should he/she do with it? His/her "boss" says they can divide the money but, first, each of you must put up some "good faith" money. Once you hand over your share, though, you'll never see your money or this con artist again.

The "Bank Examiner"

A person in conservative business clothes tells you he/she is a bank official or FBI agent and needs your help to catch a dishonest teller. All you have to do is withdraw your savings and give the money to him/her so he can check the serial numbers. A real bank official or FBI agent will never ask you to withdraw your money.

Other Types of Fraud

  • Mail fraud, fake "contest winner," "missing heirs," and unsolicited merchandise
  • Advertising fraud - "bait and switch" and other misleading "come-ons"
  • Charity fraud - always check out a charity before making donations
  • Land fraud - never buy anything before seeing it for yourself!
  • Phony coin and gem sales
  • Medical and health fraud - follow your doctor's advice. Use only medical facilities and products recommended by your doctor or health clinic.

    What to Do if You've Been Conned

    A con artist can be pretty persuasive. Sometimes you might not know you've been cheated until it's too late.

    So what do you do? Lots of people don't do anything, because they're too embarrassed to admit they were duped, or they blame themselves. Or, they think the authorities don't want to hear about a little con game.

    If you don't report fraud, you're only helping the criminals and that's just what they want. Don't play into their hands a second time! Contact the law enforcement agency serving the area in which the crime occurred.

    Additional valuable consumer protection information is available on the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs website.