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August 26, 1999

Protect yourself and your home from home-repair fraud!

WASHINGTON, D.C. (SafetyAlerts) - You are at home when you hear a knock on your door. When you answer your door, there is a man who claims to be "Bill Smith" from ABC Construction. Smith says he is in your neighborhood doing some roofing work and he noticed that you need a new roof. He proceeds to offer you substantial savings if you sign a contract now.

What should you do? Kindly say "no thank you" and close the door. Then, do some research to find out if you do, in fact, need a new roof and research several contractors.

Home repair fraud has become a pervasive problem across the United States. Con artists and vagabond thieves have now entered this industry to rip you off. Home repair fraud can start with a brochure offering a free home inspection and a follow-up offer to do necessary work for an unusually low price. Home repair fraud can also start with an unexpected visit from someone purporting to do work on your neighbor's house or in your neighborhood. Often, these offers require you to pay money in advance and the firm never delivers the service or performs sub-standard work.

State Attorneys General have lowered the boom on many fraudulent home repair operations. Some of the most recent scams have been directed towards seniors. 

New York Attorney General Dennis Vacco indicted a home improvement contractor.  Allegedly, the contractor coaxed an elderly woman out of $13,000 for work that was never done.

In another situation, a 74 year-old woman was defrauded by a contractor in Idaho. The woman paid McFarland all of her savings for labor and materials to repair her home. During the construction, the woman and her family became concerned with the poor quality of the work. Shortly thereafter, the contractor walked off the job, took all the building materials to his supplier for a cash refund, and kept the money. Attorney General Lance charged the contractor with grand theft to which he pled guilty.

In Ohio, Attorney General Betty Montgomery recently filed suit against 17 home improvement contractors for performing inadequate or incomplete work. The suits allege that Ohio consumers paid hundreds or thousands of dollars for improvements that were never finished, for work that was done so poorly that other contractors had to finish it, or for projects that were never started.

To avoid falling victim to home-repair scams, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Be wary of builders or contractors who go door-to-door selling their services, especially those who offer reduced prices because they've just completed work nearby.
  • Deal only with licensed and insured contractors.
  • Don't let anyone rush you into signing a contract. Always get several estimates for every repair job and compare prices and terms. Ask for explanations of price variations.
  • Ask the company for references, and check them out. Inspect the work the contractor performed for the references. Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been lodged against the contractor.
  • Beware of contractors who ask you to pay for the entire job upfront. When making a down payment, never pay more than one-third of the total price.
  • If you have been the victim of home repair fraud, contact your State Attorney General.

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