WHILE IMPROVING your home can increase its
market value, getting nailed by a home improvement scam is a major headache. There are many
honest contractors and vendors out there, but
there are also some who are running a ruse. These
frauds use a variety of schemes but share one thing
in common: They aim to get your money.
Scam artists like these take advantage of what
you don’t know. They like to target older homeowners who live alone or are victims of weath-er-related disasters.
Here are some overall signs of a home
improvement scam. If an individual does the
following, you should be skeptical.
• Asks you to pay for an entire job upfront or
• Is not visible online or
doesn’t have an actual business address.
• Offers you a discount to
help find other customers.
• Asks you to get the
required building permits.
• Prices their services at
extremely low, too-good-to-be-true rates.
• Pressures you to act immediately to get a special offer or
• Says you must do immediate
repairs to your home because your
safety is at risk or you are in danger.
• Tries to get you to sign contracts or paperwork without reading them or asks you to sign
• Knocks on your door unsolicited.
• Offers you free materials or a better deal
because of leftover materials from another job.
• Asks to come into your home. (This can
result in theft or burglary.)
• Talks fast to try to confuse you.
Driveway, chimney and roofing repair are
three common scams. Another one to watch out
for is the home improvement loan scam. Here’s
how they might work.
Driveway scam. A “contractor” knocks on
your door and says he (or she) has been working
down the street, has some materials left over and
noticed your driveway needs to be resealed. He
says he’s only charging you for labor and the cost
will be extremely cheap. Once the work is complete, he asks you for more money, and if you
refuse to pay he threatens to call the police and
report you for theft of services.
Chimney or roofing scam. A “contractor”
shows up at your door, says he (or she) has been
working down the street and couldn’t help but
notice that you’ve got ice or snow damage to your
chimney or roof. He appeals to your worries about
the roof starting to leak or the chimney falling in
and then quotes you a low price for a minor repair.
He does a small repair like replacing a shingle or
patching mortar, then asks for a large sum of
money, claiming the damage was more severe
Home improvement loan scam. A “
contractor” knocks on your door and says he (or she) can
make improvements to your home. He offers to
arrange financing from a lender he knows. He
asks you to sign paper work. You are rushed to sign
quickly, without reading, or asked to sign blank
pages. He may even threaten to leave
the work on your house unfinished
if you don’t sign now.
You sign the paperwork,
only to realize later that you’ve
signed a home equity loan
with a high interest rate,
points and fees. You then
come to find out that the
work on your home hasn’t
been completed or done
right, and since the contractor may have already been
paid by the lender, he has
little interest in completing the work
to your satisfaction.
So how do you avoid these and other scams?
First, your city, county, regional and state
consumer offices are resources for information
on how to protect yourself. These offices offer
important services to consumers. They might
mediate complaints, conduct investigations,
prosecute offenders of consumer laws, license and
regulate professional service providers, provide
educational materials and advocate for consumer
rights. You can utilize these offices, along with
your state license board, to research specific
information to protect yourself from home
improvement scams. For a list of consumer offices
The best way to avoid a scam is to know what
to look out for. If an older relative owns a home
and lives alone, be sure to share this information. Listening to your intuition and being
observant and aware can prevent many of the
consumer problems we hear about.
If you get the sense that something isn’t right
or seems shady, or if an offer seems too good to
be true, learn to trust that sense. It’s the first
guard against getting taken in by any fraud, scam,
con or rip-off. C
David Horowitz is a leading
consumer advocate. David’s
daughter Amanda Horowitz
is the CEO of Fight Back! and
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search “Consumer Connection.”
Please note we are not licensed
professionals in any field. If you are
seeking advice you should consult with
your own licensed professional. We do
not assume any liability or responsibility for the interpretation, application or
accuracy of any information provided.
Don’t get nailed
Avoiding home improvement scams