Are you getting ripped off by a contractor?
As a retired police officer and a reputable business owner I feel compelled to try to inform people on how to identify a less than honest contractor. It continues to happen, even though contractor scams have been exposed in the local news.
Keep in mind, some of these people are con artists, they play on your emotions and pressure you to commit to give them your money. They may "con"vince you to feel sorry for them, intimidate you, and/or give you an offer that you have to accept quickly to get this great "deal".
Some are desperate people and are in desperate need of your money. They may be good people, but they end up promising you the world and don't fulfill these promises. They end up cutting corners to put more money in their pocket and you don't realize this until long after you have paid them. Or, once they get a decent chunk of your money, they just don't show up to do or finish the work.
Others get in over their head, either due to a lack of experience or they missed something at the time of the estimate. But rather than explain this to the customer and try to work something out, they become desperate and do what desperate people do.
These warning signs should be used only as a guide. Don't make your decision on a single sign alone. Chances are, if you go by this guide you will come across as an informed person, a less than honest contractor will most likely get scared off and move on to someone else. Remember too, if you are getting a bad feeling from someone, go with that feeling and call your local police. The police would rather get a call from you, even if you are wrong or there isn't much they can do.
It is better to hear this from you sooner, rather than after that person has moved on and ripped off one of your neighbors. Plus, if this person is legitimate, they wouldn't mind talking to the police anyway. Also, try not to let this person know you are calling the police. It works much better if they are surprised.
What this all
comes down to is the single question, "Can I trust this person to give me what I am paying for?" This is especially important in the pavement business, because there are many ways to cut corners without your knowledge.
Warning signs to watch out for:
The contractor is using low budget soliciting methods. This may be an inexpensive ad, someone arriving on your property unannounced, cheap flyers on your door or mailbox or signs placed along the road where they have not done a job, in New York State this is illegal. If someone is going door to door, chances are they need a soliciting permit from the locality you are in. Ask this person if they have one.
The offer from the contractor seems to be a great deal. Remember, you do get what you pay for. If an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.
The contractor offers you a today only price. This is a pressure tactic and you should wonder why this person is pressuring you.
There is a lack of specific written information for the work that will be done. The work should be explained in detail, with a step by step process. You want this to compare apples to apples between contractors.
The contractor can't provide their insurance information. Every contractor with insurance at least knows the name of their insurance carrier and agent's name/location. This information can be easily verified with a phone call to the agent. Simply call the agent, tell them who you are dealing with and the work they are proposing to do. Most agents will verify this over the phone and your insurance company will be glad you did, especially if someone gets hurt on your property due to the work being done.
There is a lack of a legitimate business name on any paperwork or advertising. You want this to check out the business for any past complaints.
There is a lack of a legitimate business location, not a post office box. You want to see an actual street address. You will need this in case you need to pursue any legal action against the business. If you do have to pursue any legal action, you will most likely have to do this where the business is located. Be wary of someone from out of town. Verify the business name and address with the phone book listing or internet search.
The contractor is operating with only a cell phone for a contact phone number. Cell phone numbers are easily changed and taken out of service, plus cell numbers don't help to verify where a contractor truly operates.
The contractor refuses to provide personal identification. If you are unsure about a contractor, ask to see their driver's license. If they do provide identification, be sure to look at their picture on the license, compare that picture to their face to make sure it is in fact their license. Also, be sure to look at their address to see if it makes sense with their business information. Beware if the address is from out of the area or they give you some excuse as to why they don't have a license.
The contractor's vehicle doesn't match with what they are offering. If they are proposing to do work which requires a specific type of vehicle, for example a truck, but they are not driving that type of vehicle, ask them what they will use to do the work. Beware of a vehicle with out of state plates. Also, keep in mind that vehicle license plates can easily be stolen and switched from another vehicle.
A deposit is required to start the work. This may be acceptable if it is for a large project and the deposit is a small part of the total cost. If the deposit is for a significant amount of the total cost this should raise a red flag. You need to ask yourself why doesn't this person have the financial backing to do the work without a deposit? If the deposit is to cover the materials, then see if you can pay the supplier of the materials, when the materials arrive at your location. Again, you would want to ask yourself, why doesn't this person have any credit with their supplier?
The payments are to be made by check to an individual, or cash. This is a sign that the person does not have a legitimate bank account in the business name. Also, if you do this, you may not have any recourse against the business.
The contractor doesn't have an established, good reputation at stake. If this is the case, what do they have to risk if you are not satisfied with the work? (Especially after they have been paid.)
The contractor can't provide references. You should ask for references from recent work and work from some time ago in your area. Keep in mind that references can be staged through friends and relatives. Don't rely on pictures either, pictures can hide flaws in the work, plus who knows if they are showing you pictures of work they did.
You can't verify the contractor's complaint history with the Better Business Bureau. If a contractor has an established business he should have some type of rating with the BBB. Keep in mind the best rating a contractor can have without paying the BBB, is an A. In order to have an A+ rating, the contractor must pay the BBB a membership fee. If the rating is less than an A, look to see why. In all fairness, sometimes a contractor may have a complaint against them and not know about it. Or it has been resolved and not reported to the BBB. The BBB is also a good source for other agencies that can assist you, depending on your location and the type of work being done.
The contractor has a negative history with the state attorney general. If the business is from out of state, be sure to check with that state also.