Scam alert: If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is


Published: Monday, May 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 30, 2006 at 10:58 p.m.
Welcome to springtime - that rejuvenating time of year when you start to notice little rodents, slitherers and creepy-crawlies lurking around your house. And sometimes, even, big ones. Those are the ones that worry the Better Business Bureau.
This time of year, they say, slithery scam artists slime out of the woodwork to offer convenient home-improvement services at bargain prices - selling their schemes at your door, in the paper, in the mail.
"The salesperson may claim to have leftover materials from a recent job at your neighbor's house or the 'house down the street,'" Robert Andrew, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington, said in a press release. "This is a common ploy of fly-by-night contractors who are based out-of-state and use their pickup trucks as their place of business."
Please say this with us: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
In reality, the BBB says, the only things those nasty scammers deliver are high-pressure sales tactics, confusing contracts, poor workmanship, rotten work, overcharged rates and, if things go really bad, foreclosure.
It's a big, bad business - Americans spent more than $200 billion on home remodeling or repair projects last year, so prey is abundant.
To avoid falling victim, follow these tips from the BBB before you hire a contractor for your home-improvement project:
  • Compare costs before making a financial commitment. Solicit at least two or three bids from prospective contractors based on the same building specifications, materials, labor and timeline.
  • Never let a contractor pressure you into making a snap decision. A reputable professional will recognize that you need time to decide which contractor to hire.
  • Employ a contractor with an established business in the area. Ask for references, and check them out. Look into the contractor's standard of work and professional affiliations, verify the contractor has insurance and check to see whether industry licensing is required.
  • Do not permit work to start without a signed written contract that includes all verbal promises made by the contractor. Be sure the written contract includes a start and completion date; a breakdown of the cost; and information about the contractor, including license number, street address and phone number.
  • If you need financing for a project, it might not be wise to go through the contractor or someone he suggests. If you are asked to pay for the entire job up front, this should raise a red flag. Arrange for payments to be made as parts of the job are completed. Final payment should not be due until the job is done. Pay by check or credit card, never cash.
  • Choose a BBB member for your home-improvement job, and you can rest assured your contractor has been in business for at least a year, is free of a pattern of complaints and has proper licensing and insurance. Check with the BBB for reliability reports before hiring any contractor.
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