Beware of home-repair scammers, crooked contractors

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Spring is a popular season for home repairs and improvements, and the Iowa Attorney General cautions homeowners about hiring home-repair contractors work. Home improvement problems are among the most commonly reported complaints to the Attorney General Consumer Protection Division.

The following common pitches are used by many home-repair scammers:

  • I was in the neighborhood and saw you need work done.
  • You can get a big discount, but you have to sign up today.
  • I’ll need a cash deposit for materials.
  • After you sign up, we’ll put you on the list. We’ll get to you soon.
  • Our work has a lifetime warranty.

There are loopholes in each of these scammer lines. See the Iowa Attorney General website for a complete explanation of these high-pressure sales tactics and tips on how to handle them.

Basically, never hire a contractor just because the contractor knocked on your door. Ask for the contractor’s business card and references, and then contact the Better Business Bureau. Also check the license plate on the contractor’s vehicle, particularly if the person approaches you at your home.

If the company isn’t from Iowa, then it might be hard to track down later if there are any problems with the company’s work.

Contractors rarely have a “sale” on their work, so don’t buckle under pressure to sign a contract quickly. Well established, legitimate businesses are able to purchase materials and then bill their customer, so they don’t require customers to buy materials up front.

After thoroughly checking on a company, request that the contract specify an approximate start and finish date, keeping in mind that weather often influences home repair work.

Be sure the contract includes a legitimate phone number and website in case you need to ask a question or file a complaint. Go ahead and phone the number and search for the website before signing the contract.

So-called lifetime warranties are only good as long as the company is around. As you’re checking out the company, notice how long it has been in business under the current name. Frequent changes of a company name could be a warning of a contractor in legal trouble.

If you feel you’ve been wronged, file a complaint with the Iowa Attorney General by calling 515-281-5926 or 888-777-4590 or email consumer@ag.iowa.gov.

Ann Cochran is the health navigation coordinator in the Dallas County Health Department.

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