How the scam works
A contractor leaves a pamphlet or shows up at the door. They claim they’ve been doing work in the area and just happened to notice the condition of your driveway or sidewalk. Since they’re already working nearby, they can give you a discount. If the price is agreeable, they will then ask for a large percentage of the fee upfront. There is some hesitancy if there is a question on the price or details about the business and its location.
Once the transaction is complete, the scam contractor may disappear altogether. The contact number or email may not work, quickly helping you realize that the contact information was a sham. If you protest, the contractor may use intimidation tactics, such as threatening a lawsuit, to convince you to pay up.
In other cases, once complete, the contractor’s work is shoddy and unprofessional, but the full payment has been made. Reaching the company the contractor allegedly represented is impossible, or another company was impostored in the process. In any of these scenarios, the chances of getting a refund or the work fixed are slim.
How to avoid contractor scams
- Be wary of unsolicited offers. Most scams involving contractors begin when a random contractor makes an effort to go out of their way to offer an estimate that was never requested.
- Research companies and contractors before you hire. Start with BBB.org. If the contractor has multiple negative reviews and complaints, don’t hire them. Often, a simple internet search will reveal companies or individuals that have been involved in fraudulent activities or provided unsatisfactory work to previous clients.
- Get everything in writing. Ask for an estimate in writing before payment is even discussed. Don’t let a contractor start working on a project until a written, signed contract outlining start and complete dates, a detailed description of the work to be provided, material costs, payment arrangements, and warranty information is provided.
- Stagger payments. Most contractors will require a percentage of the total price upfront, but it should never be the full price before the work has begun. Instead, agree to stagger payments so that work can be inspected at various stages of the project.
- Use safe payment methods. Paying with a credit card provides some peace of mind since the credit card company will help you if the company is fraudulent. If you use a check, write it to a company, not an individual. Paying cash or using an electronic wallet app is risky since there is no way to stop the payment or get some money back if anything goes wrong.
For more information
If you suspect you have fallen for a contractor scam, report it to BBB.org/ScamTracker. Your report can help alert others to similar scams.