BBB helps homeowners spot common house and home scams

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    BBB Scam Alert

    Warm summer weather means sprucing up your home, inside and out. With Albertans already spending $1.78 billion on home improvements and renovations in the first quarter of this year*, BBB says it pays to know the red flags of home improvement scams and contractor fraud before breaking ground on your next home project.

    Whether your home has been damaged in a major storm, flood, forest fire or other natural disaster, or simply requires some updated renovations, scheming contractors know homeowners are trying to repair their homes, or look for a professional to do the job.

    “Unfortunately, scammers posing as contractors come out of the woodwork after severe weather to capitalize and profit from people’s vulnerability,” says Mary O’Sullivan-Andersen, president and CEO of BBB Serving Southern Alberta and East Kootenay. “It’s crucial that while residents are anxious to repair the damage to their homes and businesses, they take the time to ensure they’re not dealing with a storm chaser.”

    How do these scams work?

    • Home improvement scams can start with a knock on the door, a flyer, or an ad.

    • The contractor may offer a low price or a short timeframe. One common hook is when the scammer claims to be working in your neighborhood on another project and has leftover supplies.

    • Once started, a rogue contractor may “find” issues that significantly raise the price. If you object, they threaten to walk away and leave a half-finished project.

    • Or, they may accept your upfront deposit and then never return to do the job.

    So, what can happen? Here are some common types of home improvement scams:

    • Fly-by-night contractor: Scammers posing as contractors that target neighbourhoods recently hit by a weather disaster, claiming they are already doing work in the area and can start on your home tomorrow, if you pay them a hefty fee upfront. The contractor collects money and skips town, never returning to do the promised work.

    • Misleading door-to-door sales: If you get a knock on the door from someone trying to sell you an air conditioner, a new furnace, windows or other home-energy product, it’s illegal in Alberta.

       Or, you find yourself talking to a contractor who claims they are already doing work in the area and just happen to have leftover supplies that they can use to fix whatever you may need, for an upfront fee, of course. They either never return to do the work, or claim there are major issues with your home, requiring more time, labour and money.

    • Paving scams: Phony paving contractors travel door-to-door saying they are a paving company that has some left over asphalt from a recent job. They offer a paving service for a cheaper cost and do a portion of the work, then get the victim to pay a large portion of the agreed price and say they will be back the next day but never return.

    Red Flags:

    • “Contractors” show up in an un-marked truck or van

    • Workers cannot provide proof of proper licensing

    • Consumers cannot find or get a hold of references

    • Contractors demand a high deposit upfront

    • Contactors insist on cash-only deals, verbal or handshake agreements instead of a written contract and may use high-pressure sales tactics

    How to protect yourself:

    • Check with BBB. Consumers can view a company’s rating, read complaint history, check verified customer reviews, business history and other important information to help them make in informed decision.

    • Ask for references and check them out. Phony contractors will be reluctant to share this information and scammers won’t wait for you to do your homework. If you can, get references from past customers, both older references to check on the quality of the work and newer references to make sure current employees are up to the task.

    • Check warranties. Ask what type of warranties the company offers and see if the company has a service department to keep up the maintenance as-needed. If a company doesn’t have a service department, then honouring warranties can become difficult.

    • Get it in writing. If you can, request bids from three different contractors that include costs, timelines and warranty information. If it’s an emergency, remember that the lowest bid doesn’t guarantee the best deal.

    • Check licensing and credentials. Check with your municipality to determine if inspections, permits or licensing is required. Contact Service Alberta for information on required provincial licensing. If the contractor can’t prove their qualifications, walk away.

    • Ask about equipment. Be sure the contractor has proper equipment for the job and a qualified team who knows how to operate it.

    • Beware of upfront fees. If a contractor or repairman request full payment upfront, it could be a red flag.

    • Ask about insurance. Although contractors are not required by law to carry liability insurance, it could mean you could be liable for damage to you or your neighbour’s property. Also find out what your homeowner’s insurance will and won’t cover.

    *Province sees surge in spending for home renovations

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