Our Opinion: Beware the con artist

Monday, April 17, 2006

It's springtime and word has it that home repair scams are operating at record highs throughout the United States, with their focus remaining on the elderly and naive.

Spring is prime time for such con artists as we all catch a slice of spring fever and begin contemplating fix-up jobs such as painting the house, barn, garage, or other outbuildings; shingling the roof; gutter repair or replacement; improving landscapes; trimming, removing, and/or planting shrubbery and trees, etc.

Home repair scams by itinerant or traveling con artists work like this:

They stop at your door, give you a hard sell, and offer sensational low prices. It might be for roofing, painting, landscaping or asphalting your driveway.

They insist that you pay at least a portion in advance and then they do very little work or no work and never return.

Remember, legitimate contractors very rarely solicit door-to-door. You must contact them at their place of business if you have work for them to do.

Be skeptical of the door-to-door types. The main rules are to check out a contractor and never pay large sums of money in advance to a contractor you don't know. And please assist elderly neighbors who might be pressured or intimidated into paying such con artists.

Some basic rules to follow:

*Ask for local references and check out all contractors. Call the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division to see if it has complaints. See if the contractor is registered with the State of Iowa.

*Get it in writing. Before any work begins, agree on a written contract detailing the work to be done, responsibility for permits, costs and any other promises. Put start and completion dates in writing. You usually have three business days to cancel a contract signed in your home.

*Don't pay large sums in advance if you don't know the contractor. Insist on a mechanic's lien waiver in case the contractor fails to pay others for material or labor.

*Be very cautious of credit or financing arranged by a contractor. Check first with your attorney or a local lender you can trust.

*Before committing to any type of contract or job to be done, elderly residents should talk to trusted family members, neighbors or friends before signing papers or paying any up-front costs.

Looking out for each other is a natural, healthy activity that can prevent some real heartache and financial loss when dealing with such cold-hearted con artists.