Educational Consumer Tips

Recognizing Home Improvement Scams

Author: Better Business Bureau

Every spring home improvement scams crop up like weeds and the Bureau receives complaints from consumers who have been fleeced by phony contractors. You can avoid being victimized by recognizing these popular scams.


Itinerant contractors show up on door steps claiming they have left over materials from a previous job and can seal your driveway for a rock-bottom price. After paying for the job upfront, the "contractor" may slather an ineffective substance -- such as crude motor oil -- on your driveway and be on to his next victim. 


Like the sealant scam, phony contractors target neighborhoods offering dirt-cheap prices to repair driveways. They want to begin work on the spot and usually do not have a contract. 


Usually lure their victims via advertisements in local newspapers offering gutter cleaning at a cheap price. Once the routine work is performed, they claim the chimney is in dire need of structural repairs.

Sometimes, chimney shakers will literally remove bricks and mortar from the chimney; hence, the term "chimney shakers." These materials will then be shown to the homeowner as evidence of the chimney's alleged state of decay. Another common scare tactic used in connection with chimney scams is the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning if the chimney is not repaired immediately. But remember, not all scare tactics are deceitful. When a reputable contractor calls a problem serious and explains his rationale in a clear and logical way, your family's safety may depend on you acting promptly. If you are unsure about a diagnosis, always get a second opinon from a reputable contractor. 


Phony contractors send mailings, telemarket, or go door-to-door in this scam, which usually targets businesses. These contractors offer a price that sounds too good to be true and want to do the job immediately. They use substandard materials and perform shoddy workmanship. In many cases, businesses don't realize they've been burned until after heavy rains cause the roof to leak resulting in damage to the office's interior. When the company calls the contractor for repairs, its phone number has been disconnected and he is no where to be found. 


*A stranger who shows up on your doorstep or phones you with these lines: "I can give you a great price because I have leftover materials from another job" or "I just happen to be working in the area..." 

*A vehicle with out-of-state license plates. 

*An overly aggressive sales pitch and request to begin work immediately. 

*Demand for immediate payment, often in cash. 

*No written contract. The contract should contain the three-day cooling off period required by law. 

*Inability or reluctance to supply customer references. 

*The only business address and telephone number is a rented mail drop or an answering service. 

*Failure to show proof of insurance (a certificate of insurance) when requested. 

For more information, contact: 

Better Business Bureau
100 Bryant Woods South, Amherst, NY 14228
(800) 828-5000

This report is general in nature and is not intended as a Business Review on any company, service or product.