We have a great deal for you! Simply fill out this form to see if you qualify for … well, you name it. “Great deal” scams sound a lot like that, and they work—which is why they’ve been around a long time. Sadly, they’re just one of many scams often associated with the home improvement industry—all designed to help you part ways with your money and identity.
The home improvement industry is rife with scams for many reasons. Improvements frequently involve a lot of money, which attracts criminals. Homeowners may not hire contractors very often, so the crooks can also take advantage of that lack of knowledge and understanding. In addition, many homeowners are seniors who are unfortunately a popular target for thieves.
The “great deal” scam is one of the more prevalent scams to watch out for. In the back of a newspaper or magazine, or in mailers or online advertisements, you may come across an offer for no-interest loans, unbelievably low-cost contractors, or other incredible deals. All you have to do is fill out a brief application—so what’s the harm in that? The problem is that you’re giving away personal information that scam artists can use to steal your identity. Giving away your name, address, Social Security number, and other private information can lead to damage to your credit report, hours and hours of work to recover from identity theft, and other hassles.
There are other versions of the “great deal” scam. One is a bait-and-switch scam in which that same alluring advertisement or mailer offers a free estimate or consultation. Drawn by the cheap offer, you call a contractor to your house, and inevitably the contractor “discovers” all sorts of supposedly urgent and definitely expensive problems with everything from your roof to your air ducts. Now that the contractor is inside your house, you may feel that you might as well follow through and hire them to do the work—not realizing that it’s unnecessary and overpriced.
A third version of the “great deal” scam is one in which, again, you’re drawn in by a low-price offer and invite the contractor out to discuss the project. The contractor considers the work and then asks for a large upfront payment. If you’re naïve enough to comply—not realizing that you should never pay more than, at most, a small upfront deposit for home contracting work—the contractor may simply take your money and run.
One more scam to watch out for: People may knock on your door or advertise their contracting services on sites like Craigslist. If they are not licensed and bonded, you can’t be sure that they have the skills they say they have. And if something goes wrong—like they do work without getting the required permits or use substandard parts—you’ll be on the hook.
Whatever home improvement project you’re considering, make sure to ask for proof that the business is licensed and bonded. Check references, evaluate businesses at the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org), hire local contractors whenever possible (they’re less likely to take your money and run), and get a written contract.
Most of all: Remember, if a deal sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is.