Home improvement scams increase during pandemic, consumer experts warn what to watch for

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Posted at 6:42 AM, May 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-12 07:36:27-04

TAMPA, Fla. — Consumer experts are warning people that home improvement scams have been on the rise during the pandemic.

Officials say the first step before working with a contractor is doing your homework. Look into who they are, what kind of work they’ve done, and if they have a license.

“Contractors have to have a state license and they have a registration locally. Are they in good standing? Both with the state and locally,” said Eric Olsen, Manager of Consumer Protection Services for Hillsborough County.

The Better Business Bureau says home improvement scams can start with a knock at the door, a flyer, or an ad. The contractor may offer a low price for a short time.

Experts say a common hook they use is to claim they have extra supplies from another project in your neighborhood.

Once they start working, a bad contractor may claim to find an issue that will substantially raise the price. Experts say if you object, they could threaten to leave a half-finished job or take your deposit and never return.

That’s why you have to get everything on paper.

“If you enter into an agreement with a contractor, you want to make sure that you understand the agreement and get it in writing. Everything that’s done needs to be in writing, that just makes sure everything is on the up and up,” said Olsen.

That includes payments, any work that’s being done, and when.

Experts say common red flags are:

  • Cash only deals
  • High upfront payments
  • Deals without a contract or on-site inspections
  • Refusal to share references

“Finally, when working with a contractor, making sure that certain things are done in writing like a release of lien or other finalizing information that needs to be done. Officially there’s inspections that need to be done,”

Ensuring that all of that is done is usually on the contractor, but Olsen says an informed consumer can help keep the process moving along.