It's a four-letter word no one ever wants to hear: scam. The more you know, though, the less likely it is that you'll fall victim to one on your next home improvement project. Doing due diligence before you hire is generally the best protection against unscrupulous operators.
In 2013, our Angie's List team heard tales of shoddy and unfinished work, as well as accounts of contractors that weren't appropriately licensed or took money without starting promised work.
Another problem included requiring excessive payment upfront. Although it's normal for a contractor to ask for up to a third of the total cost before starting, you should be wary if they ask for more. It's best to negotiate a price that you're comfortable with before signing a contract. In some cases, homeowners paid excessive amounts upfront and the contractor never even showed up.
Also be wary of scare tactics. This could include a contractor suggesting extra, expensive repairs and suggesting that dire consequences will follow if you don't act immediately. In such cases, get a second opinion from a highly rated contractor and be sure to have a detailed written contract in place before starting any work.
The elderly and victims of weather disasters were common scam targets in 2013, as they tend to be at all times.
In general, our research team found that common service categories in which scams were reported in 2013 included HVAC, landscaping, remodeling, roofing and moving.
If you've been targeted
If you've experienced shoddy work or been the victim of unscrupulous practices, consider filing a complaint with your state attorney general's office or contractors' board, and warn other potential customers by writing an online review about the company.
If the contractor is bonded, you may be entitled to reimbursement by the issuing agent. In cases where you need additional assistance, consider hiring an attorney to explore your options.