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BBB TIPS: Home improvement scams — research contractors first

Consumers begin to think of home improvements as Spring approaches. Before you begin your search, do your homework.

The scenario: A homeowner was considering adding a deck to her backyard landscaping. While searching for contractors, her boyfriend suggested a contractor that both of them knew. The guys played ball together. She and her boyfriend had even gone to dinner with him and his wife.

They met with the contractor to discuss building supplies for the deck. He said some of the supplies would have to be special ordered. He had an account with the store, so it made sense for him to buy the materials and then pass along the savings. And, he had a friend at the store who would make sure they got a good deal on some quality materials.

The homeowner gave him a $5,000 down payment, but after several days of waiting, the materials never showed up. At that point, all she wanted was a refund. After several text messages from him — saying the check was on its way to repay her the money — she was done with the lies and excuses. When she threatened to call the police, and contractor finally refunded her $1,200, telling her that’s all he had.

Still frustrated and angry, she went online to leave him a poor review. That’s when she saw the unthinkable. The contractor had posed as the homeowner on a reviewing site and had written a glowing review of his own work. She rebutted by writing her own review on a social media site.

Soon after her posting, responses to her poured in. Others reached out to her saying they had hired the same contractor, but he never completed their projects. They said he seemed genuine and nice and they trusted him. She and those who responded banded together and contacted the media, who was more than willing to expose his wrongdoings. During the investigation, they found out he perpetrated scams in three other states.

While the homeowner felt vindicated that she had reported the scammer and banded together a great support system of people online who had experienced the same loss, it soured her desire to make her yard a beautiful place to relax after a long day of work.

BBB advice to those contemplating a home improvement project:

• Get multiple estimates in writing

• Get references

• Check Accredited Businesses with BBB

• Verify the contractor is licensed and insured

• Pay by check to have proof of payment; or credit card

• Never pay full price up front

• Compare estimates; the least estimate may not mean the best price

Avoid:

• Full cost upfront payments and cash-only deals

• High-pressure sales tactics to sign a contract on the spot

• A contractor who asks you to get the building permit

• Contractors who sell door to door or have extra material from their last job

If you have questions, give BBB staff a call at 423-4433 or toll-free at 800-552-4631 so they can assist you in your research.

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