COLUMBUS — Following the severe weather that hit northwest Ohio and other parts of the state last night, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is warning consumers to beware of home repair scams.
“Any time you have tornados, severe thunderstorms, downed trees, or damaged buildings, there’s a risk of scams,” Attorney General DeWine said. “Some con artists track severe weather so that they can travel to affected areas to rip off homeowners. They promise to make repairs right away, but after getting paid, they leave town without completing the work. We’re encouraging people to be very careful. The first contractor who shows up after a storm may not be the best.”
Attorney General DeWine’s office has pursued dozens of enforcement actions against home improvement contractors who failed to deliver promised services to consumers. In some cases, the contractors targeted consumers in storm-damaged areas, accepted large down payments (sometimes the consumer’s insurance check), and left before completing the work.
Consumers whose homes have been affected by a storm should be wary of fly-by-night contractors who come to their door to offer repairs. Before entering into a contract with any home improvement business, consumers should take steps to protect themselves, such as:
• Research the business. Obtain the name, address, and phone number of any contractor offering to do work for you. Check for complaints on file with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the Better Business Bureau. Conduct an Internet search of the business’s name and words like “complaints,” “reviews,” or “scam.” Contact other customers to ask about their experiences with the contractor. If possible, get recommendations from neighbors, friends, or family. Don’t accept services from a contractor who refuses to provide proper identification.
• Get multiple estimates. Consider getting estimates from at least three different contractors. Be wary if one contractor quotes a price that is dramatically lower than the prices other businesses are offering. The contractor later may demand more money or fail to complete the work as promised.
• Don’t make large payments in advance. Be wary of contractors who demand large upfront payments, such as half or more of the total cost. Also be wary of contractors who ask you to sign over your insurance check. Try to pay in increments, as the work is completed to your satisfaction.
• Get a detailed written contract. Insist on a written contract detailing the costs, the work to be done, the starting and end dates, and any verbal promises made by the contractor.
• Understand your cancellation rights. If the contract resulted from a door-to-door sale, you generally have three days to cancel the contract, according to Ohio’s Home Solicitation Sales Act. The seller should give you written notice of these rights.
• Consider paying with a credit card. Paying with a credit card generally gives you greater protections to dispute unauthorized charges, especially compared to paying in cash.
Consumers who need help or who want to report a potential scam should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioProtects.org or 800-282-0515.