BBB says don't fall for fall home improvement scams
Autumn ushers in seasonal home improvement and repair scams.
As we wind down summer, which always seems like our shortest season, and move into autumn, a new project list emerges. But please note that fall is notorious for home improvement, repairs and maintenance scams.
This time of year allows fraudsters and substandard contractors a prime opportunity to rip off homeowners, sometimes for losses in the thousands of dollars for unnecessary or shoddy work.
These types of scams not only impact the consumers who lose money but also take business away from legitimate companies.
BBB always advises that many great companies provide top-notch service for consumers willing to do their homework. Whenever possible, look for the BBB seal, the sign of a better business. Always a free referral agency to find a business you can trust, along with BBB.org you should check multiple sources to ensure the company has proper licensing, insurance, and a solid track record.
Here are some key things homeowners should watch out for. It's not uncommon to have someone claiming to be a contractor show up on your doorstep uninvited. They might be a legitimate contractor, but in some cases, those knocking at your door might be scammers or substandard or unlicensed businesses.
They often use hard sales tactics to get you to agree on the spot to make expensive and, in some cases, unfounded repairs.
A scam sales pitch might be that they are doing some work in the neighborhood and noticed that your house needs some repairs too. They'll offer to fix your roof or chimney, repave your driveway or perform other repairs or renovations for what sounds like a great price.
Other autumn related scams include offers to climb ladders and clean fall leaves from gutters. Complaints to the BBB allege that often the money is paid, and then no work is done. Homeowners are also advised that even if gutter cleaners are well-intentioned, ensure they have proof of proper insurance in case of injury accidents.
Another scam that often happens door to door are impostors claiming to be a representative from your local utility company offering a "free" energy audit to reduce heating costs. But if you let them in, they insist on costly upgrades and might even burglarize your home. They may also switch your utility service without you understanding the change and steal vital identification information.
Related to energy, homeowners should only rely on very well-vetted companies to come in for furnace checkups or maintenance. Be very suspicious of anyone reaching out to you for these services until you have done your homework. BBB always advises never to let anyone in your home unless you have checked them out and contacted them for service.
Some of the best advice is always to get more than one bid before agreeing to any work. Don't always go with the lowest bid. Always check to make sure you're getting great quality and trustworthy service. Do your due diligence and remember to check ratings, reviews, and references.
Also, ask for a written agreement that should include a detailed description of the work, material costs, start and completion dates, and warranty information. Before you make the final payment, verify that all work has been completed to your satisfaction.
Illinois law requires that contractors provide a written contract for any project over $1,000. Avoid any contractor who only accepts cash and those who want a large part or all the job costs upfront.
If you encounter any scam, even if you did not lose money, we ask that you report it to the BBB Scamtracker.
• Steve J. Bernas is President and CEO of the BBB of Chicago & Northern Illinois. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.