After a long, unseasonably cold winter, spring has finally arrived in the Bluegrass State. And as many Kentuckians look forward to enjoying the new season’s sunshine and warmer temperatures, bogus home-improvement contractors will also be looking to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers during the spring and summer months.
In recent years, home repair and construction complaints have ranked as high as third on the Top 10 Consumer Complaints List released annually by the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG). My Office of Consumer Protection and I are committed to protecting Kentuckians from home-improvement scammers, as well as unscrupulous fly-by-night contractors. Also known as “storm chasers,” these fraudulent contractors often appear in storm-damaged communities and swindle victims by offering cheap and quick repair work.
Many of these scammers will hit an area, take the money, and run. They typically travel from out of town and visit neighborhoods, offering unsolicited bids to susceptible residents and making high-pressure sales pitches that sound too good to be true. That’s why I always encourage consumers in need of cleanup or repair services to never pay the full amount before the work is completed, and, if possible, use local, reputable contractors.
My office is currently working to recover thousands of dollars in restitution for scam victims in several Kentucky counties who were solicited by James Twaddle, a fraudulent roofing contractor. Twaddle, the former president of Restore-IT USA, sent employees door to door, signing more than two dozen residents up for roof repair services following storm events. However, Twaddle pocketed the payments and never completed the work for any of them. Twaddle has since pleaded guilty to theft by deception charges in two of these cases, and the remaining cases are still pending.
Kentuckians can easily avoid similar frustrating and stressful experiences by keeping these additional tips in mind:
· Deal only with reputable, established firms. Ask friends and neighbors for recommendations.
· Get written estimates from at least three different contractors. Make sure all costs are covered in the estimate: including the down payment, finance charges, building permit fees, installation costs and all materials.
· If an advance is needed to purchase materials, offer to purchase the materials yourself.
· Request names of past customers and contact them to find out if they were satisfied.
· Never select a contractor who has not come to your home to assess the job.
· Ask questions about what methods or materials will be used, when work will begin, how long before the job is complete, and what method of payment is required.
· Ask if the contractor is licensed, bonded (if required by the city or county), and insured.
· Be suspicious of unfamiliar, out-of-state vehicles and those who offer repair work at unreasonably low prices. Contact local law enforcement about your suspicions.
· Check unknown companies out with the Better Business Bureau or call my Office of Consumer Protection to see if information is available about the company.
Additionally, when selecting a contractor, insist on getting a written, detailed contract. Don’t let a persuasive seller push you into signing a contract on the spot until you have received several estimates and are completely clear about the terms of the contract. You may be asked to sign documents other than the contract. I encourage you to read these papers thoroughly so you know exactly what you are signing.
I want to ensure that all Kentuckians are vigilant of home-improvement and storm-repair scams this spring. As always, I urge consumers to report any incidents of possible fraud or shoddy construction work and repair using my Office of Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-888-432-9257. You may also file a consumer protection complaint online by visiting www.ag.ky.gov/consumer.