Avoid Being Scammed By Shady Contractors

Never, never open your door to a contractor who randomly appears offering to fix some unseen problem. You would think it’s common sense, but a California senior ended up paying a shady contractor $20,000 to perform $300 worth of work, and it took a sting operation to stop a Long Island contractor who was going door-to-door offering to plug nonexistent carbon monoxide leaks. So how can you protect yourself? Here are a few warning signs to beware….

  • Uninvited Visits: Good contractors don’t have time to go door-to-door to gin up business. They have offices and appointments, and rely on recommendations and advertising.
  • Evasive Answers: Make sure the contractor directly answers all of your questions and concerns. Also be very wary if the contractor wants you to make a check out to him, not a company.
  • Out Of State Vehicles: Have some hometown pride and use a local contractor. Verify the contractor’s name, company, address, and phone number.
  • Pushy Timelines: “Come-ons like “we’re in the neighborhood only this week” or “our prices are good for only two days” are just that, come-ons. Good contractors don’t cut special deals; they don’t need to. They don’t offer discounts if you promise to recommend them to your friends and neighbors either.”
  • Favored References: Ask to talk to the contractor’s last three customers, not his favorites. Ask detailed questions to get a good sense of the contractor’s workmanship.
  • Lapsed Licenses: Look up the contractor’s Better Business Bureau rating. Call the local building inspector’s office to make sure your contractor is licensed, and call their carrier to make sure they have insurance.
  • Verbal Contracts: “Every verbal promise should be included in the contract, as should the three-day notice of cancellation required by federal law for contracts signed in the home.”
  • Blank Contracts: You wouldn’t hand over a blank check, so don’t sign a blank contract. Make sure every space is filled in or crossed out.
  • Shady Financing: Don’t let the contractor deal with the financing until you do your own homework. “You could be agreeing to pay rates and fees that are exorbitant. Or worse, you could be placing your entire house at risk if you can’t make the payments.”
  • Demands For Full Payment: Withholding payment is the best way to prod a lazy contractor into action. Don’t pay the full bill until you are satisfied with the completed project.

How to avoid being ripped off by phony contractors [The Los Angeles Times]
(Photo: fmckinlay)