MILWAUKEE – If your driveway needs paving or repairs, don’t trust just anyone to do the job. BBB Scam Tracker has received numerous reports of unscrupulous contractors who trick homeowners with supposedly good deals. Victims end up with shoddy pavement – or nothing at all – to show for what they paid.
How the scam works
A contractor shows up at your door or calls you on the phone. They claim they’ve been doing work in your area and just happened to notice the condition of your driveway or sidewalk. Since they’re already working nearby, they can give you a discount. If you agree to the price, they will ask for a percentage of the fee upfront; if you question it, the contractor might seem hesitant to reveal details about their business or office location.
Once the transaction is complete, the scam contractor may disappear completely. The contact number or email may not work, quickly helping you realize that the contact information was a sham. If you protest, the contractor may use intimidation tactics, such as threatening a lawsuit, to convince you to pay up.
In other cases, the contractor’s work, once complete, is shoddy and unprofessional, but the full payment has been made. Reaching the company the contractor was allegedly representing is impossible, and the chances of getting a refund or the work fixed are not promising.
How to avoid contractor scams
- Be wary of unsolicited offers. Most scams involving contractors begin when a random contractor makes an effort to go out of their way to offer you an estimate you never asked for.
- Research companies and contractors before you hire. Start with BBB.org. If the contractor has multiple negative reviews and complaints, don’t hire them. Often, a simple internet search will reveal companies or individuals that have been involved in fraudulent activities or provided unsatisfactory work to previous clients.
- Get everything in writing. Ask for an estimate in writing before payment is even discussed. Don’t let a contractor start working on a project until you have a written, signed contract that outlines start and complete dates, a detailed description of the work to be provided, material costs, payment arrangements, and warranty information.
- Stagger your payments. Most contractors will require you to pay a percentage of the total price upfront, but you should never pay the full price before the work has begun. Instead, make an agreement to stagger payments, so you can inspect work at various stages of the project.
- Use safe payment methods. Paying with a credit card is the best practice, since the credit card company will likely offer some recourse if the company is fraudulent. Checks are also a safe way to pay, but write them out to a company, not an individual. Paying cash or using an electronic wallet app is risky, since there is no way to stop the payment or get your cash back if anything goes wrong.
If you’re the victim of a contractor scam, report the incident to BBB.org/ScamTracker. Your report can help alert others to similar scams. For more information or further inquiries, contact the Wisconsin BBB at www.bbb.org/wisconsin, 414-847-6000 or 800-273-1002.