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Beware of Home Improvement Fraud


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Home improvement fraud is one of the newest scams targeting consumers across the United States. What is home improvement fraud, and how does one fall victim to it? According to Consumer Fraud Reporting, the most common types of home improvement con artists are “contractors” that go door to door, hawking their services.

These people target the elderly, people who live alone, and homes suffering damage from natural disasters. However, home improvement fraud can come in a variety of other forms. Read on to learn how you can protect your home from this latest scam.

The Most Common Home Improvement Scams

The Hamilton County Coalition to Stop Fraud, Scams & Abuse provides some insight into the most prevalent home improvement scams.

They advise consumers to be on the lookout for contractors with pushy sales tactics, including:

  • Claims that repairs to your home cannot wait.
  • Offers to repair your driveway or anything else at unbelievably low prices with discounted or leftover materials.
  • Deals that are only valid for one day only.
  • Storm chasers that want upfront fees and signed contracts before you’ve contacted your insurance agent or done any comparison shopping.
  • Chimney sweeps claiming you could suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning or a fire, if you don’t agree to whatever outrageous repairs they want to do.
  • Radon “mitigators” that will use scare tactics to sell you their services.
  • Termite scams, in which the contractor actually plants evidence of pests to convince you to buy their services.

The Hamilton County Coalition cautions that these are only the most common scams. Scams can be found in almost every home improvement service, from the so-called electricians and plumbers, to landscaping services and more.

Demands for upfront fees before you’ve seen a contract are likely to be your first warning. Keep in mind that reputable contractors will also be willing to let you take your time and shop around for several quotes, rather than pushing for a signed contract immediately.

Other Warning Signs

The Federal Trade Commission has listed several ways to tell if you are being targeted by a home improvement scam. According to the FTC, the con artist may request that you get any necessary building permits. Legitimate builders will typically handle the necessary permit paperwork themselves.

The FTC also says that contractors offering loans from their own personal lenders may also be a scam. You should be suspicious if you cannot find a business listing in your local phone book, if you are offered lifetime warranties, or if the contractor tells you that the completed work will be a “demonstration” for other potential customers.

How to Protect Yourself

There’s no doubt that con artists are clever, but there are several ways you can safeguard yourself from a scam. The New York Attorney General’s Office advises that you should always get references before hiring a contractor. Check with friends and neighbors that have had work completed recently.

You can also ask lending banks or local suppliers if they’ve heard of your contractor. The Better Business Bureau is another great resource to check.

According to the New York Attorney General, you should get at least three quotes for a job, making sure that each contract given to you is properly completed. A good contract will include a description of the work, estimated completion times, a list of required materials and their prices, plus any labor costs or other fees.

As you examine quotes from various contractors, set aside those with ridiculously low material and labor costs. Ask why these items cost so much less than the prices provided by other contractors.

When it comes to home improvement scams, trust your instincts. Don’t fall prey to hasty decisions made under pressure – your driveway, chimney or roof can most likely wait a few days while you shop around. If something feels wrong, your best option is to steer clear.