r.e.m. for free

R.E.M. is offering a nice little holiday freebie this season.

Specifically, Discoverer, the leadoff tune to its forthcoming Collapse Into Now album is being made available as a free download on the band’s website, www.remhq.com.

Collapse Into Now , R.E.M.’s 15th studio album, won’t be released until March 8, so this is quite a tasty little preview. Clocking in at just over 3 ½ minutes, Discoverer is a feisty, blurry, live-sounding slice of electric psychedelia, though a step back from the brutish immediacy of 2008’s Accelerate.

The website has lots of other info on Collapse Into Now, as well, but no word on when or if a tour is slated to follow the album’s spring release.

Home-repair scams // Con man reveals how pros operate

Chicago Sun-Times April 26, 1987 | Larry Weintraub A con man who spent more than half his life cheating people on home repairs has revealed in detail the secret techniques ripoff artists use to fleece unwary homeowners of millions of dollars.

Springtime in the metropolitan area always brings a bumper crop of “down men,” “setup men,” “junkmen,” and “closers” – fast-talking pros set to empty the pockets of innocent householders, said Jeffrey Serafin, who perfected his sales skills across the nation and has practiced them for the past year in Chicago’s western suburbs.

After a troubled Serafin made the decision to leave the rackets, he told his story to the Chicago Sun-Times and lawmen, naming crooked contracting firms and individuals, many with mob connections.

He was shot and wounded for blowing the whistle on his former associates. Authorities say they are taking his account of the crimes seriously and are working to build cases based on the information.

The leading figures in Serafin’s narrative concentrate on heating scams in April and May, then switch in June to air-conditioning. But he noted that similar con games are played by unscrupulous peddlers of siding, waterproofing, plumbing, roofing, sewer and other repairs and remodeling.

They refer contemptuously to their victims as “mopes,” “mooches,” “fish,” “suckers” and “paychecks,” and despite Illinois’ Home Repair Fraud Act of 1986, which stiffened penalties, con men continue to rake in huge, illicit profits at a record pace, said Serafin.

Statistics compiled by the Illinois attorney general’s office and the Better Business Bureau show homeowner fraud was higher last year than in 1985 in virtually every category.

Principal home-repair scams that Serafin cited include: Conning new homeowners – misrepresenting themselves to new homeowners as the regular heating contractor for the old owner as a means to get in the door to work their scams. Setting time bombs – fiddling with controls on heating systems during hot weather – or air-conditioning in winter – so the equipment won’t do its job months later. Juicing a boiler – squirting liquid inside equipment to fake leaks. Spiking a boiler – ruining perfectly good equipment. Tops and bottoms – selling complete chimney liners but installing only the end pieces that are visible.

The man who left the ranks of con men to cleanse his life has been warned by his old collegues that he will not live to testify against them.

In order to regain custody of his three children and fulfill promises he made to a priest and the “respectable woman” he loves, Serafin, who claims to be one of the top five hustlers, or closers, in the Midwest, told federal and county authorities he is willing to provide the evidence they need.

On April 18 – after he began telling authorities the names of his former colleagues in home-repair con games – Serafin was shot by an unknown assailant. The bullet tore through his right thigh. He is now under police protection at an undisclosed location.

Rather than allow his former collegues to practice their shady skills in this busy season for home repairs while investigators run down his leads, Serafin, 29, decided to unveil the “theatrical productions” crafted to harvest home improvement dollars.

Historically, elderly people and women alone have been most easily duped. But the mind games are so sophisticated that Serafin himself has conned “lawyers, doctors, engineers, even an architect.” “I’ve been told `no’ five times and still walked out with a signed contract,” he boasted. go to website hp warranty check

Con men have a name for the cloud of verbiage they use. They call it “the gas.” Here are Serafin’s accounts of some typical “gas” attacks: THE NEW OWNER “Sharpie contractors subscribe to real estate trade magazines which report sales of older homes. They list addresses and names of the old and new owners.

“We’ll go to a house. `Hi, is so-and-so (the former owner) in? It’s the heating men.’ The pigeon figures you’re the regulars.

“`She doesn’t live here any more,’ he’ll say. `We bought the place a couple of months back.’ “`I wondered why we couldn’t reach her,’ you’ll tell him. `We came out to see why she hadn’t called for the warranty check on the burner. We put it in. If you’re the new owner, you get the same deal. Open the back door and we’ll show you what to turn on, blah, blah . . .’ or off, or whatever.

” You’re dressed as a serviceman or your partner, the `down man’ or `setup man,’ is. You keep spouting gas as you head for the basement.

” `You’ve got a 25-year-old boiler. It must need cleaning. You haven’t had it cleaned or anything, have you?’ See, you’re pumping him for information.

” `Oh, no, nothing,’ he says. `We just moved in.’ “He’s glad to see you. They don’t know squat about the heating system. So far, everything he’s discovered about the house is gonna cost him. It’s about time he found a bonus. Now you know it’s all right to write a cleaning.

” `We’ll get you cleaned up for $28.50,’ you tell him. `We’ll clean it and go over it with a fine tooth comb, make sure everything is alright. This used to be oil heat, but we converted to gas, put this burner in. That’s what’s warranteed. No way this obsolete boiler is gonna be warranteed.’ “You’ve planted a seed now. He’s not going to be surprised when he needs work, but you’re not going to push him just yet.

” `Give me $14 down and the balance when we’re through,’ you tell him. You go from there next time. You’ve made expenses, even if nothing more happens.

“If you get in the house and find a more modern unit, have a look with the flashlight and shoot for a repair. We call it a wipeoff.

” `Your burners are warping,’ you tell him. `We’ll rebore them, clean them out, blah, blah, small crack, blah, adjust your blah, blah.’ ” SETTING A TIME BOMB “Now you send him upstairs to turn the thermostat up, down, whatever. You’ve gotta get rid of him long enough to screw around with the system.

“You could just set the controls way down and put your sticker up. When the heating season comes in the fall, all he’ll see is that it doesn’t work. It comes on but something isn’t right. Then he sees the sticker and calls.

“You send the down man. Before he goes, he checks the office records to see when you were last there, what you told the guy that time and what you did before leaving. Those books are very important. Sometimes operators steal each other’s records and go to war over it. Those are your sucker lists.

” `What’s the problem?’ the down man asks when he’s there. He’s feeling them out. A good setup man can tell in five minutes what you’ll spend. He might `juice’ your furnace so we can sell you a new boiler you don’t need.” JUICING “A setup man sometimes uses a plastic bottle called a `juicer’ to squirt liquid deep in your boiler while you are upstairs diddling the thermostat or wherever he sent you. Usually, he squirts baby oil so it doesn’t evaporate. He wants it to still be there when the closer – waiting about 10 minutes away – arrives. He tells the customer:

” `I can see it’s been leaking, but I don’t know if I can seal it.’ Your guy shows it to the fish. `To be honest, I don’t run into this very often. Let me call the service manager. Maybe we can seal it. That would save you a lot of money.’ He’s planting seeds again, the expectation of expense.

“`If it were a pump or gas valve I could fix it right up for you. But my service manager is the expert on that. He’s the only one who can OK a seal.’ “When I get down to the basement, I’m cranky. `Why are you bothering me?’ I complain. `I’ve got four more calls to make this afternoon, blah, blah.’ ” `You know I can’t do a seal on my own,’ my guy says. `Look what happens when the heat goes on.’ Then he sends the fish up to the thermostat and fills me in on how the scam is going.

“The fish returns and I pull my head out of the boiler. I’m still sore at my down man. `How long have you been with this company? Can’t you tell when a boiler can’t be sealed? There’s no way to seal this.’ ” `What about the warranty?’ the down man wants to know. The pigeon is right with him.

” `Well, I can give you an allowance.’ I’m working the guy now. `It’ll help quite a bit. Really, with an allowance it isn’t going to be that bad.’ ” `What would a new one cost?’ the mooch wants to know. I’ve been waiting for him to ask. Now I send the down man to fetch catalogues from the car and copy the old boiler’s serial number. It’s all a lot of crap. I say while we’re waiting, `Let’s go upstairs. We can have some coffee and see what’s what.’ “The real reason we went upstairs was to get the wife involved. You’ve got to sell them both.

“Let her husband explain. He saw the drops. Let him be the smart one and sell her for you.

“I make a call to the office. `Warranty number blah, blah. Yeah, put me in the computer.’ If they’re resisting, I might give ’em: go to web site hp warranty check

” `I want your business now and 25 years from now. I gotta take care of you. You want some alley mechanic coming in here, some fly-by-night messing you over? You got a leaky boiler. It could blow. Don’t you read the papers? People get hurt, killed.

“Listen, I’ll give you $500 for the old pump and burner. We’ll buy back the burner.’ All the time, I’m showing him my books. `Normally the boiler would be $3,200,’ I say. I can always come down.

” `Subtract the $500, it’s $2,700, with a year’s free service, copper boiler, blah, blah, save you half of what you spend on gas, pay for itself, blah, blah, blah.’ I’ve got a line for every objection. There’s no way they’re getting off the hook. SPIKING A BOILER “Once they sign, the real bum’s rush begins. Never tell them they have three days to change their mind. `You’ll have heat tonight. We’ll get the old boiler out and the new one in,’ I say. We call another member of the team, `the junkman.’ All he does is remove boilers. He’ll have it out in 30 minutes.

“There goes any evidence of what you might have done to the old one. If you think the mooch might be coming out of the gas, give your setup man the high sign. He’ll spike the boiler, put a hole in it.

“Installers come out that night. Otherwise the sucker might shop around the next day for a deal. If he starts worrying about the price, get on the phone and give ’em more gas. You’re now hustling your boss on their behalf.

” `I know how low I can go. I gave them everything I can. What can you do? They’re really nice people.’ Cover the mouthpiece and ask, `Are you senior citizens? No?’ Give them a big wink and say to the phone, `Yeah, they’re senior citizens. Give them the 10 percent.’ “Now you’ve knocked a couple of hundred dollars off, but for over $2,000 you sold them something they didn’t need that cost the company about $400.” TOPS AND BOTTOMS “This month and next, they’re working those files, looking for easy fish. We call them laydowns. The sharpies are pushing chimney liners. You phone to say a man is coming out to put the warranty sticker on the boiler or whatever. `How’s it running?’ They don’t know. That’s promising. `I’ll check it myself.’ “At the house, you’re puzzled. `Hmmm. It shouldn’t be doing that. Look, Missuz, you spent $3,500 for a boiler and you’re burning it up. It’s warping, blah, blah. If you don’t have the proper draft, you lose the warranty.’ “Send her to diddle the thermostat and toss the handful of broken bricks you carry in the cleanout door. When she gets back, check the door and show her what you `found.’ “You sell her a liner, `all surgical stainless steel, a year’s free service and 25-year warranty. No charge for resealing the furnace.’ The whole package for maybe $2,000.

“What she gets is a draincap on top and a bottom – just what shows. And the shaft.” Larry Weintraub



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