A typical paving scam begins when a contractor comes to a consumer’s door and offers to pave the driveway right away. The contractor often claims to have leftover materials from a nearby job and offers the consumer a discount. The consumer pays in advance, generally by cash or check. The contractor provides some work, but the work is shoddy and the contractor never returns to fix or complete the job.
“Some scam artists pretend to be reputable contractors, but then they take a consumer’s money and disappear,” DeWine said. “We encourage people to be very careful, especially if someone shows up at their door and wants a lot of money right away.”
Signs of a potential paving scam include:
• Someone who comes to the door unexpectedly and offers to start the work immediately.
• A contractor who claims to have extra asphalt or concrete from another job.
• A request for a large upfront payment (often several thousand dollars).
• Payment via cash or check.
• No written contract or a contract with few details.
• A contractor who operates under multiple different business names.
To avoid scams, consumers should take steps to protect themselves, such as:
• Research the company. Check a contractor’s reputation by searching for complaints on file with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the Better Business Bureau. Check to see if the business is registered with the Ohio Secretary of State. Conduct an Internet search of the business’s name and the individual’s name. Even if you don’t find any complaints, don’t assume the contractor is reliable. Some unscrupulous contractors change their business names regularly to make it harder for consumers to learn about their history.
• Be skeptical of claims. Be wary of someone who claims to have leftover asphalt or materials from another job. This is a common sign of a paving scam. If a contractor claims to have done work for a neighbor, ask for details about the work and verify the contractor’s claims by talking to your neighbor directly.
• Ask for recommendations. If possible, ask people you know for recommendations of reliable contractors. Word-of-mouth recommendations are among the best ways to find a home improvement contractor.
• Get multiple estimates. For a large project, try to get estimates from at least three different companies. Don’t assume the one with the cheapest estimate will provide the best work.
• Get everything in writing. Some scammers provide a low verbal estimate, and then charge two to three times more after starting the work. To protect yourself, get everything in writing. A written contract should include the contracted amount along with the contractor’s name, street address, and phone number. Be cautious of contractors who provide limited contact information (such as only an email address or a phone number) or who claim to work for a company but want the check to be written to an individual.
• Understand your cancellation rights. Under Ohio’s Home Solicitation Sales Act, consumers have three days to cancel most contracts that result from a door-to-door sale. Sellers must notify consumers of their right to cancel and provide a cancellation form.
• Avoid making large down payments. Don’t pay a large down payment or pay in full until the job is complete and you have been given an opportunity to inspect the work.
• Don’t pay in cash, if possible. Cash will leave you with little paper trail if something goes wrong. On the other hand, paying with credit card will make it easier to dispute unauthorized charges.
Consumers who suspect an unfair business practice should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioProtects.org or 800-282-0515.