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‘Give me my money back’: Mid-Michigan authorities warn of home maintenance scams

Updated: Jun. 10, 2021 at 7:36 PM EDT
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FLINT, Mich. (WJRT) - The Genesee County prosecutor said it’s that time of year when scammers run rampant in the community.

An 86-year-old man unwittingly found himself the victim of a common scam. Bob Winford said got a great deal on painting his whole house, paid a down payment and then -- as happens too often -- the painter never did the job.

“The interview is not about me. It’s about helping anybody out there that might be scammed,” said Winford.

The Genesee County Sheriff’s Elder Abuse Task Force arrested the painter Wednesday, but he was let go for now as their investigation continues. Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton shared it wouldn’t surprise him if the painter has taken advantage of others.

ABC12 News is not naming the painter until he’s formally charged, so take a look at how he got this one victim and what red flags to look for when hiring someone.

“I want every person over 50 years of age to know, you can be scammed,” Winford said. “Somebody will beat you out of money if they get a chance to.”

The 86-year-old said he knew he needed to hire someone to paint his house because he is unable to get on a ladder anymore. Winford looked up listings on the internet, called the first name that popped up and the painter showed up the next day.

Winford said the man was friendly, showed him photos of other jobs he’d done and offered a great price of just $3,000.

“He said, ‘I need a deposit’. I said, ‘Oh, certainly,’” Winford said.

He gave the painter half of the agreed price -- $1,500. The man said he’d be back in 10 days to prepare his house. When he didn’t show, Winford reached out multiple times.

“I said, if you’re not gonna do it, give me my money back. And he said, I’ll be out in just a few minutes. Three hours later, he drives up in his truck and he was furious with me,” Winford said.

The man then washed the house down for several hours. Winford asked when the painter if he would return the next day, but the man said he didn’t know. That’s when Winford knew he had been scammed.

He called a few attorney friends who suggested he call the police.

“And how many people are being taken advantage of that don’t know what to do, don’t know an attorney, that don’t have a friend that has a pretty good answer?” Winford said. “That’s what concerns me.”

That’s why Winford is speaking up. He wants everyone to know what to look out for ahead of time.

“You need to do this by referral,” Leyton said. “If you need a painter, talk to your friends, talk to your family, talk to people who you trust and ask them who they’ve used in the past. And then you pay at the end when the job is done.”

Unfortunately, scams like this are all too common. While a businessman might seem genuine in-person or over the phone, they could take advantage of people.

The Houston Chronicle has compiled a few ways to check if a company is genuine:

  • First, search the Better Business Bureau, which rates most businesses on an A-through-F scale, to see if there are any problems.
  • Next, check the company through its Employer Identification Number. All reputable businesses should have one, because they’re needed for tax purposes.
  • Finally, do some due diligence. Check out the company’s website and make sure all the information matches up.

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