“After severe weather hits, some con artists will come from out of town to target affected property owners,” DeWine said. “Some of them are very slick. They’ll offer to do the work right away, but they’ll want a lot of money up front. Once they get the money, they’re gone. We just warn people to be careful, especially if someone comes to the door offering to do work right away.”
Storm-chasing contractors track storms and travel to affected communities to offer their services to homeowners who experience damage, such as downed trees or roof damage. In many cases, they visit consumers at their homes and claim they can complete the work immediately.
Unscrupulous contractors may ask for a large down payment, or tell consumers to sign over their insurance checks, but ultimately they perform shoddy work or no work at all.
Consumers can help avoid home repair scams by following these steps:
• Research the business. Obtain the name, address, and phone number of any contractor offering to do work for you. Check for complaints on file with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the Better Business Bureau. Conduct a basic internet search of the business’s name and words like “complaints,” “reviews,” or “scam.” Contact other customers to ask about their experiences with a contractor. Ask neighbors or friends for recommendations. Don’t accept services from a contractor who refuses to provide proper identification.
• Get multiple estimates. Consider getting estimates from at least three different contractors. Be wary if one contractor quotes a price that is dramatically lower than the prices other businesses are offering. The contractor later may demand more money or fail to complete the work as promised.
• Don’t make large payments in advance. Be wary of contractors who demand large upfront payments, such as half or more of the total cost. Also be wary of contractors who ask you to sign over your insurance check. Try to pay in increments, as the work is completed to your satisfaction.
• Get a detailed written contract. Insist on a written contract detailing the costs, the work to be done, the starting and end dates, and any verbal promises made by the contractor.
• Understand your cancellation rights. If the contract resulted from a door-to-door sale, you generally have three days to cancel the contract, according to Ohio’s Home Solicitation Sales Act. The seller should give you written notice of these rights.
• Consider paying with a credit card. Paying with a credit card generally gives you greater protections to dispute unauthorized charges, especially compared to paying in cash.
Ohioans who have questions about a contractor or those who believe they have been treated unfairly should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioProtects.org or 800-282-0515.