Contractor scams aren’t just limited to certain seasons, so it’s important to always be vigilant and take precautions to reduce the risk of falling victim to a home improvement scam and ensure that your home improvement project is completed to your satisfaction. Photo by F. Muhammad/Pixabay.
Contractor scams can happen at any time, and occur in many forms, but they are usually more common in certain circumstances or during certain times of the year. Some situations that may make homeowners more vulnerable to contractor scams are during time of natural disasters – like hurricanes and flooding, where people are in a hurry to repair or rebuild their homes, or during seasonal changes when the weather is warming and people are more inclined to begin a new home improvement project.
But it’s important to note that contractor scams aren’t just limited to certain events. Home improvement scammers also take advantage of people’s vulnerabilities when it comes to their home, trying to sell unnecessary work, offering deals that seem too good to be true, or even posing as a legitimate contractor to gain access to their home and steal from them.
A report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) said that in the United States, “construction fraud is the most common type of procurement fraud.” Construction fraud can occur in a variety of ways, such as by overcharging for work, using substandard materials, performing shoddy work, and failing to complete a project or even showing up for the job after taking a deposit.
The National Center for the Prevention of Home Improvement Fraud (NCPHIF), a nonprofit organization that educates communities on how to protect themselves from becoming victims of home repair fraud and scams, estimates that contractor fraud costs American homeowners billions of dollars each year, and said that contractors commit fraud in about 20% of all home improvement projects.
Should the average homeowner be concerned about home improvement contractor scams?
As a homeowner, it is certainly a good idea to be aware of the potential for home improvement contractor scams and take steps to protect yourself. While not all contractors are scammers, it’s important to be vigilant in order to avoid falling victim to fraudulent activity.
Home improvement contractor scam red flags to be on the look out for
You should be on the lookout for contractor fraud when hiring a contractor or subcontractor for any type of construction or home improvement project. Some red flags to watch out for to help prevent fraud includes:
• Unusually low estimates: If a contractor’s estimate is significantly lower than others you have received, it could be a sign that they plan to cut corners or use substandard materials.
• High-pressure sales tactics: If a contractor is pressuring you to make a decision immediately, or to pay for work in advance, it could be a sign that they are not trustworthy.
• No written contract: Legitimate contractors will provide a written contract that outlines the scope of the work, payment terms, and any other relevant details. If a contractor is unwilling to provide a written contract, it could be a sign that they are not legitimate.
• Lack of insurance or proper licenses: Make sure the contractor you hire is licensed and insured. You can check with local government agencies to verify a contractor’s license and insurance status.
• Lack of references or willingness to provide them: A reputable contractor should be willing to provide references from previous customers. If a contractor is unwilling to do so, it could be a sign that they have something to hide.
• Unfamiliarity with permits and codes: A reputable contractor should be familiar with local building codes and regulations, and should be able to obtain the necessary permits for the project.
Here are some helpful tips you can do to better protect yourself from construction fraud and avoid becoming a victim of a contractor scam:
• Thoroughly research contractors: Before hiring a contractor, do your research. Check out the company’s website, read reviews. Check online review sites, and ask friends, family, and neighbors for recommendations. Ask for references from the contractor and be sure to follow up and check them, this will give you an idea of the contractor’s past performance and whether they are reliable. You can also check with the Better Business Bureau for unresolved complaints against the company.
• Check the contractor’s business license and verify the business is insured: This will help protect you in case of any accidents on your property or damage during the project.
• Get multiple estimates: Before deciding on a contractor, get estimates from at least three different contractors to give you a sense of what a fair price is for the work you need done, but be skeptical of estimates that are significantly lower than others you have received, as this could be a sign that the contractor plans to cut corners or use substandard materials.
• Avoid door-to-door solicitors: Reputable contractors generally don’t solicit business door-to-door.
• Get it in writing: Make sure that you have a written contract that clearly outlines the work to be done, materials to be used, and the total cost of the project. Make sure you carefully read and understand the contract and you understand the scope of the work, payment terms, and any other relevant details before signing it. Don’t ever sign a contract with blank spaces or if it contains something you don’t understand.
• Don’t pay upfront: Avoid paying for the entire project at the beginning of the project. It’s common to pay a reasonable down payment or deposit at the beginning of the project to cover some expenses, but be wary of contractors who ask for the full payment before any work has been done. A reputable contractor will not ask for payment in full until all of the work has been completed to your satisfaction.
• Don’t pay in cash: Use a trusted method of payment, consider using a credit card that can offer additional protection if something goes wrong.
• Don’t rush: If a contractor is pressuring you to make a decision on the spot, be wary. It’s important to take the time to do your research and make an informed decision. Trust your instincts, if something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably best to walk away. Don’t be afraid to say no if you have any doubts about a contractor’s legitimacy.
Finally, be very leery of “too good to be true” deals: If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Be wary of contractors who offer extremely low prices or promise to complete the work in a very short time frame.
In summary, contractor scams can occur at any time of the year. To avoid falling victim to contractor fraud, homeowners and businesses are encouraged to be vigilant, take your time to thoroughly research contractors before hiring them, get multiple estimates, and carefully read and understand any contracts before signing them. In many cases, it may also be a good idea to hire an independent inspector to check the quality of the work during and after construction.
By taking these precautions, you can reduce the risk of falling victim to a home improvement contractor scam and ensure that your home improvement project is completed to your satisfaction. If you suspect that you’re dealing with a scammer, or if you have been a victim of fraud, you should report it to the appropriate local authorities immediately, so that they can take action to prevent others from falling victim to the same scam. Check with your state to see what type of consumer fraud laws are available that are designed to protect residents from deceptive business practices.