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WHAT ARE THE SIGNS THAT THIS IS A SCAM?
Any time that you need to act immediately to take advantage of a deal such as a home repair contractor arrives at your home and says that he/she has extra supplies from a repair job he/she did for your neighbor’s home. If you pay an upfront fee right now, he’ll use the extra supplies to repair your home at a discount, and will start work immediately after payment.
High pressure sales tactics such as reports that repairs need to be made immediately for the safety of you and your family, or in order to take advantage of a special, discount price.
Fly by night contractors and storm chasers who may drive around your neighborhood in unmarked trucks, do not provide complete contact information for their business and require advance payment. The contractor may tell you that your home has been severely damaged by wind or hail storms and that your insurance company will likely cover the cost. The company may ask that you immediately sign a contract stating that you will hire them to do the job.
Chimney Scams You call a chimney sweep to clean and inspect your chimney. They inform you that you need a new liner or the whole chimney needs replaced because of cracks. The individual insists that if the chimney is not repaired or replaced, you and your family may succumb to carbon monoxide poisoning or are at risk for a fire. However, they have little to no proof of these claims. Beware of cut-rate prices, particularly by way of coupons. A certified chimney sweep charges $100-200 for a cleaning and inspection.
Termite Scams The most common scam to look out for in the pest control business is the exterminator who brings ‘evidence’ with them, generally termite wings or droppings to show you ‘proof’ of infestation. Ants with wings to the untrained eye can be mistaken for a termite. Also watch out for any exterminator who claims they will ‘control’ the termites instead of exterminating them. This means they will only use procedures to limit the size of the colony – not eradicate them.
Radon Scams Radon is an invisible radioactive gas that is linked to lung cancer. Beware of unlicensed radon ‘mitigators,’ being sold through high-pressure tactics.
A contractor offers to seal your driveway for a heavily discounted price. Find out what materials will be used as sealant. Cheaper materials may look good at first, but can wear off in just a couple of months.
A contractor says he or she has a deal for you that is good only today and unless you agree the offer is not valid.
HOW CAN CONSUMERS PROTECT THEMSELVES?
Do your research when considering interaction with any company or organization. Take advantage of the resources at the Better Business Bureau, and trade organizations such as the Homebuilders’ Association of Greater Cincinnati and make sure this business has a history of responsible conduct with consumers.
Many of trade associations, including the HBA, offer free mediation if the unfortunate situation does arise where there is a dispute between the customer and its contractor members. Additionally, members of these trade groups are held to industry standards created to help resolve disputes in the quality of workmanship.
Ask for references & do your homework. A good contractor should have previous clients who are willing to spread the good word about the contractor’s work.
Get a second and even third opinion from reputable contractors.
Be wary of any contractors that want to do work ‘under the table’ or without a contract. Completing a contract and other paperwork helps ensure that you have recourse if the repairs are shoddy or not completed.
Take time to shop around. Get at least three estimates for the job. Remember that you won’t be saving any time or money if you’re left with poor quality workmanship or a half-finished job from a contractor you can’t track down.
Never make full payment for work upfront. In the City of Cincinnati, contractors may not request more than 10% down under most circumstances. Typically a down payment should be no more than a third of the total cost with additional payments made as the work progresses. Final payment should not be made until work has been completed and you have inspected the work to be sure that you are satisfied.
Carefully review the terms of any financing that may be offered to you to cover the costs of repairs. Is the financing secured such as a mortgage on your home or unsecured like a credit card. You may explore your options in obtaining your own financing through your bank or credit union.
If you think your home has been damaged in a storm and repairs may fall under your homeowners insurance, contact your insurance company.
Be cautious about allowing access to your home. If you feel that your safety is at risk, contact the police.
Chimney Sweeps Look for a certified chimney sweep in your area. If they have concerns, they will use a videoscope or videoscan to show you the problem and make suggestions about repairs. You should always get a second opinion.
Radon Scams You can test to determine if radon gas is present in your home; it can seep into your basement, permeate up through your home and become trapped there. Home detection kits are inexpensive, around $10- 20 and can be purchased at local hardware stores.
Termite Scams Always ask the exterminator these questions: 1. Do you know the difference between ants and termites? 2. Do you think the infestation is new or old?
HOW TO REPORT IF YOU’VE BEEN A VICTIM
Ohio Attorney General’s office: If you have paid a fee for shoddy or incomplete work, immediately contact the Ohio Attorney General’s office (1-800-282-0515 http://www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov) to report the crime. Senior citizens – you can also visit http://www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/Services/Seniors for a wealth of information regarding frauds/scams and many more important links, publications and news.
BBB (Better Business Bureau): You should also submit a complaint to the BBB (www.cincinnati.bbb.org or 421-3015) to report the problem and for assistance with resolving the dispute.
Call the Trade organization of which the contractor is a member.
Local Police Department: If you have paid a deposit and the company has not returned to start or complete work, you may file a police report for the theft of your money. You should also contact police if you feel threatened or if the individuals canvassing your neighborhood are engaged in suspicious activity.
Local Postmaster: If the US Mail system was used in any way in the scam, call 1-888-877-7644 or go to https://postalinspectors.usps.gov/.
“Looks Too Good To Be True” Website: The website was developed and is maintained by a joint federal law enforcement and industry task force through funding provided by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the F.B.I. http://lookstogoodtobetrue.com
National Chimney Sweep Guild: If your chimney sweep uses scare tactics, or you suspect fraudulent services were performed on your home, the Guild will provide a state-by-state listing of certified sweeps. http://www.ncsg.org/
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): The EPA provides links on it’s website to offices where you can get information on safe Radon levels, guidance with radon measurement kits, and a list of licensed companies who can help reduce the radon in your home if it’s present. www.eps.gov/iaq/radon/pubs/citguide.html
Source: Hamilton Co. Coalition to Stop Fraud