Tree trunk with colored leaves in front and rake leaning against it

Autumn ushers in risky scams for homeowners

Original Article: Steve Bernas, 9/24/23

As we head into fall, summer fades into shorter days and longer to-do lists as we prepare for a new season and the winter months ahead. Unfortunately, no one is more ready and willing to take advantage than fraudsters and substandard contractors who choose this time of year to cash in on unsuspecting homeowners.

In fact, many of the fall-based reports coming into the BBB Scamtracker are affiliated with home improvement, which is the fourth-riskiest scam in the country and the costliest, where victims lose an average of $1,500.

Home improvement, repairs and maintenance scams this time of year include weatherproofing, roofing, chimneys, furnaces, leaf collection, energy scams and utility impersonators.

These types of scams impact consumers who lose money and time and take business away from legitimate companies.

BBB always advises that consumers take time and do their research before hiring to ensure they end up working with one of the many great businesses with excellent track records of ethics and customer service.

Along with being a good referral source for trusted businesses, we also ask customers to check ratings and reviews at BBB.org. In addition you should ask for references and check multiple sources to ensure the company has proper licensing, insurance and a solid track record.

Some red flags homeowners should watch out for include caution if anyone contacts you unsolicited by texts, emails or phone calls, especially if someone shows up at your door unannounced.

Rule No. 1 is to never let anyone in your house without thoroughly checking them out and making sure friends, family or neighbors know someone is requesting entry.

It’s not uncommon for someone claiming to be a contractor to show up on your doorstep uninvited. They might be a legitimate contractor, but in some cases, those knocking at your door might be scammers or substandard or unlicensed businesses.

They often use hard sales tactics to get you to agree on the spot to make expensive and, in some cases, unfounded repairs.

A scam sales pitch might be that claims they are doing some work in the neighborhood and noticed that your house needs some repairs, too. They’ll offer to fix your roof or chimney, repave your driveway or perform other repairs or renovations for what sounds like a great price.

Other seasonal scams include offers to climb ladders and clean leaves from gutters. Complaints to the BBB allege that often the money is paid, and then no work is done. Homeowners are also advised that even if gutter cleaners are well-intentioned, ensure workers have proof of proper insurance in case of injury accidents.

Another door-to-door scam includes impostors claiming to be a representative from your local utility company offering a “free” energy audit to reduce heating costs. But if you let them in, they insist on costly upgrades and might even burglarize your home. They may also switch your utility service without you understanding the change and steal vital identification information.

Related to energy, homeowners should only rely on very well-vetted companies to come in for furnace checkups or maintenance.

We always advise to get more two or more bids before agreeing to any work. Don’t always go with the lowest bid. Always check to make sure you’re getting great quality and trustworthy service.

Written agreements are vital and should include a detailed description of the work, material costs, start and completion dates, and warranty information. Before you make the final payment, verify that all work has been completed to your satisfaction.

As a final tip a reminder that Illinois law requires that contractors provide a written contract for any project over $1,000. Avoid contractors who only accept cash and those who want a large part or all the job costs upfront.

• Steve J. Bernas is President and CEO of the BBB of Chicago & Northern Illinois. He can be reached at [email protected].

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