By Kellie Woodhouse
First, she told them she was a widow.
Second, she didn't check to see if they were licensed contractors.
Third, she let the truck follow her to an ATM as she withdrew hundreds of dollars, alone.
"I was just ripped off," said the 75-year-old Ellicott City resident, who said she was scammed last month by three men who convinced her to let them pave her driveway.
She wound up paying $400, not the original $50 they'd told her the job would cost, and at the end of her driveway, where a county snowplow had nicked a hole in the asphalt in the winter, the workers simply covered loose rocks with tar. "It looked horrible," she said. "It wasn't professional at all."
To top it off, she said, the men stole her new, $150 leaf blower.
"It was an awful, just a horrible feeling," she said. "And now I am really afraid to live here by myself. It puts a fear in you, it really does."
Howard County Consumer Affairs Administrator Rebecca Bowman said driveway paving scams have been an issue in Howard this summer.
In one scam, she said, a couple that lived off Centennial Lane had their driveway paved with "a mix of oil and black paint" for a cost of $250.
"The traveling home improvement contractor is not a new scam, it's been going on for years and years," Bowman said. "It's somebody you don't know, who wants to do work for you right away, ... who wants to be paid right away and (who) usually doesn't have any identification."
Check for license
Bowman says every door-to-door solicitor must have a registration card and permit issued by the county. They also must have a Maryland home improvement contractor's license.
"If they don't have one, it's a real red flag not to do business with them," Bowman said.
According to Bowman, these scammers pose a number of issues: "They may not do the job well, they may charge more than what you'd pay with a reputable contractor (and) in a worst-case scenario they may use the opportunity to case your house so they can burglarize it."
The Maryland Home Improvement Commission is investigating an increasing number of complaints from Maryland homeowners victimized by driveway scams, according to a news release from the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. In many cases, the workers cover the driveway with oil mixed with water, black paint, or some other inferior substance, which crumbles or washes away in a rainstorm, according to the release.
Appell said the leader of the work crew who came to her house told her he had done the same work last year, and when she told him she was a widow, said to her, "I remember your husband, he gave us iced tea last year."
"Everything was a lie," Appell said.
The man and his two assistants at first told Appell the paving job would cost just $50 and that they would only accept cash. But when they finished, the trio claimed they had to use "extra material" and hiked the bill up to $400, Appell said.
She told the men she didn't have that much cash on her, and they suggested a trip to the ATM. The men followed her to the ATM, she said, where she withdrew money and gave it to them as quickly as possible.
Appell said she was specifically targeted because of her age, and that she is less trusting of strangers now.
"Now, when someone comes to the door, I don't buy anything and I don't let anyone in, no matter what -- no matter how honest they look," she said. "Because this guy, he looked pretty honest."