Home improvement season is just around the corner, and Better Business Bureau (BBB) is urging the public to use caution when hiring a contractor.
Last year, BBB received several reports about people losing thousands of dollars to contractor scams, primarily due to fly-by-night businesses using high-pressure sales tactics and demanding upfront fees. The con artists find plausible-sounding reasons for customers to pay money — often a substantial amount — upfront, then will either deliver shoddy work or no work at all before disappearing.
Home improvement scams were number three on the BBB list of “Top 10 Riskiest Scams” across Canada for 2020. The scam has the third highest susceptibility rate at 73.9 per cent, with consumers losing a median average of $1,000. However, individual losses can be significantly higher.
Home improvement scams can start with a knock on the door, a flyer, or an ad; sometimes they set up fake websites and business accounts on social media. The contractor may offer a low price for the job, or say they can do the job quickly. A common hook is the claim that they have been working in your neighbourhood and have leftover supplies from another project.
The “contractor” often vanishes without trace once they have secured money upfront. If they do start the job, a shady contractor might claim that they have found issues that substantially increase the cost of the project. If you object, they threaten to walk away and leave a half-finished project.
A consumer in Delta told BBB about his experience with a “contractor” who turned out to be a scammer:
“This guy shows up to my home and offers to start work on my exterior patio. Says he takes deposits on materials because he’s been scammed before and was left with unpaid material bills. So I concede and give him $2,000. He leaves, comes back with about $300 in wood, then leaves again saying he had to go to another lumber store and then a meeting and he would be back later. Then I didn’t hear from him, or get a single text response.
“I texted, my husband texted and called him several times. No response. My friend went on the classified page where I found him, and emailed asking for a quote and he got a response from the carpenter, though he was still not responding to my texts.
“I texted him and told him I was going to call the RCMP if he didn’t return my money by noon the next day. He has not brought my money back, and is not answering any of our messages. I have filed a report with the RCMP.”
If you’re looking to do some home improvements and want to hire a contractor, watch out for red flags. Say no to cash-only deals, high-pressure sales tactics, high upfront payments, and handshake deals without a contract.
Search for a contractor’s Business Profile on www.BBB.org. Get free information on their history of complaints, read verified Customer Reviews, and see if they are an Accredited Business. Also search for the name of the company online along with “Complaint”, “Review” or “Scam” to find different results and see if they are legitimate.
Ask for references and check them out. Bad contractors will be reluctant to share this information and scammers will not wait for you to do your homework. If you can, get references from past customers: both older references (to check on the quality of the work) and newer references (to make sure current employees are up to the task).
Try to work with local businesses that have proper identification, licensing, and insurance, provide detailed information about the work you want them to do, and know the local building code and other requirements. Always be sure to get a written contract with the price, materials, and timeline, and confirm that your vendor will get the necessary permits.