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Avoid scams by hiring right

by Angie Hicks, founder of Angie’s List

Angie Hicks

Angie’s List found, Angie Hicks

SCAM. IT’S A SCARY WORD. A healthy fear of bad service is one reason some join Angie’s List. The unfortunate experience of actually having been a target of shady operators directly led others to become members.

In nearly 19 years of working closely with consumers and service providers, we’ve learned a lot about how to hire right and avoid disappointments or scams. From our earliest days, we’ve offered reviews of local companies as well as independent reporting on consumer issues. In reviewing the lowlights of last year, our staff documented a variety of complaints, including stories of shoddy and unfinished work, as well as contractor failure to be appropriately licensed.

As is all too frequent, we found that elderly homeowners, as well as victims of weather disasters, continue to be targets of companies that take the money and run, do poor work or otherwise take advantage of consumers. The accompanying tips offer some guidance on steps to take in the wake of poor service. But it’s easier to avoid a problem in the first place, so educate yourself on these common contractor scams:

  • Scare tactics: Be leery of a contractor who alarms you with the dire consequences that will follow if you don’t hire him or her to fix something right now. Get multiple bids on any major project, with all details covered in writing. Also, if a contractor working on one project suggests others that need to be done in a hurry, don’t be afraid to get a second opinion.
  • Uninvited guests: Avoid contractors who show up at your door unexpected, especially if they claim to haw surplus materials from a nearby job that they can use cheaply on a project for you. Being sure to get multiple bids from highly rated contractors will help you avoid getting scammed from a door-to-door operator.
  • Price boosting: Some unscrupulous contractors offer a low initial price and then try to charge more later due to “unforeseen” problems. To avoid this, negotiate a price ahead of time and put the details in a written contract.

Shady characters are endlessly creative in finding new ways to scam consumers, so these are just a few of the practices they’ll employ. Use your common sense, and rely on Angie’s List to help you stay informed.

Follow Angie on Twitter @Angie_Hicks

Bad business?

If you’re a victim of unsatisfactory work or questionable business practices, consider the following actions:

  • Submit an Angie’s List review and contact our Complaint Resolution Process team.
  • File a complaint with your state’s attorney general or, if your state has one, contractors’ board.
  • If your contractor is bonded, contact the issuing agent for possible reimbursement.
  • Depending on the amount you’ve spent, take your issue to small claims court. Or, talk to a private attorney who has experience with your type of situation.

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