How to spot a contractor scam


This is the time of year when the lawnmowers start roaring, the mulch is spread, and homeowners, if they haven’t already, start thinking about it have the roof repaired or finally put up a privacy fence. But it’s not just the sun that comes out. There are also the pests – the ticks, the mosquitoes and the scammers.

As many homeowners know, there is plenty of anecdotes in the media about scams with contractors. These often lead older people to either give up money for work not done or to get work done at an exorbitant price that has not been agreed. In the past few weeks alone, a 77-year-old man in the Philadelphia area paid to have his roof repaired, only to end up paying for a useless, tarry substance to be sprayed on it; in Norfolk, Virginia, an 83-year-old woman gave a contractor $ 4,300 and never saw him again; In San Diego, a scammer offered to fix driveways, take down payments of up to $ 2,500 and give nothing back.

The anecdotes go on and on. So what should you do if you want a project completed but you don’t want to see your name in the local newspaper warning your neighbors not to fall for a scam?

Research your contractor. Everyone thinks they do, but it’s not as easy as one might think to investigate a home contractor.

“In many cases we see a person posing as a licensed or reputable contractor and all the checks up to the first payment to get the job started and then the issue goes away. We see counterfeit business cards and websites being used, and Criminal.” can impersonate a real contractor, register a company, or use a pseudonym. The goal is always the first payment, “says Tom Burnett, a former private investigator spokesman for Wymoo International, a global detective agency headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida.

Despite all the tricks a cheater can play, there is still one way to check a contractor, says Burnett. Obviously there is the best practice of hiring a contractor that a friend or family member swears by, but if you don’t have that path, Burnett suggests:

• Contact the Better Business Bureau where the company or contractor works and see if there are any complaints.

• Ask for references and make sure you actually contact two of them.

• Verify that the company is registered with its state or your state’s corporate division.

• You can ask for the contractor’s license number to check with your state’s Department of Professional Regulation or your contractor’s state licensing agency or similar agency.

• And of course, do an internet search for anything you can find about the company.

Be careful when paying in advance. This is also difficult because even honest builders have good reasons to ask for money up front. “Suppose you want your front door installed and when the contractor places the order and you step back, they essentially own that front door,” said Amy Matthews, a contractor who has hosted numerous DIY networking and HGTV series and is a spokesperson for Home Advisor, an online portal that connects homeowners with licensed contractors for free (

So it’s not strange for a contractor to ask for money upfront, but it shouldn’t be astronomical numbers, says Matthews. “It’s very common for contractors to charge a percentage, say, 30 percent at the start, 30 percent in the middle, and the rest at the end, and you should never pay on completion until you’ve really looked at it. “

She adds that every state is different and that California contractors cannot ask for more than 10 percent of the work upfront. There are now no regulations governing home contracting projects in some states.

It is also advisable to pay a contractor with a credit card rather than giving a wad of cash or paying with a check. This gives you a record of the payment for the authorities and improves the chances of getting your money back if you are scammed as credit card companies can refund your money in such situations.

If the proposal isn’t very detailed, this could be a red flag. A contractor planning to put up a fence around your yard or repair your roof is unlikely to come up with lengthy, detailed plans, but if you want to hire a contractor for a fairly lengthy project, such as building a building. I want to see some detailed blueprints.

“The fewer gray areas there are, the better the homeowners are,” says Nicholas Iarocci, who owns a home builder named Source Development, Inc., which serves the New York City area. He says detailed plans can “alert the homeowner of possible additional costs,” which can help you when the contractor is ethical and when the contractor is not. Finally, when it comes to work, some unethical contractors deliver, but they pay too much. Or, they may not plan on wrecking your finances but they do because of the seedy way they run their business.

“If an insured contractor brings in a day laborer or an employee who is not on the books and he is injured, the property owner is directly affected,” says Iarocci. “I collect insurance certificates from my subcontractors.”

Don’t get rushed into a project. Some very honest builders come to your home unsolicited, says Matthews. “They are called storm chasers,” she says, “and there are some very credible contractors out there looking for homes that have been hit after a storm or heavy rain, but you still need to do this background check to be sure.”

So if the contractor can’t wait for you to ponder their offer or call in your inner Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew and check them out, stay away. And you should always be on the lookout for the classic red flag blowing in the warm, friendly breeze. Just as there is no free lunch, there is unfortunately also rarely an extremely cheap lunch.

Matthews says, “If someone offers you to do a really quick job on your house for a really low price, and it sounds too solid to be true, it probably is.”

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