DATE: Friday, May 27, 2016
SUBJECT: Home Improvement Fraud
CONTACT: Lt. Noah Robinson
AUTHORITY: Sheriff Dave Wedding

Summer is getting underway and so are many home improvement projects. If you can’t handle a project yourself, you’ll likely contact a home improvement contractor to do the work for you.

The vast majority of home improvement contractors are trustworthy and committed to maintaining their reputation by performing quality work. Unfortunately, some criminals will pass themselves off as legitimate contractors and attempt to offer services at a substantial or unrealistic discount. These imposters are rarely qualified to perform the work they propose. The elderly, those who live alone, and those who have recently suffered a weather-related disaster can be tempting targets for a home improvement fraudster.

Warning Signs
Few reputable contractors sell their services door to door. You should be skeptical of an offer if:

  • The contractor claims to have “left over” material from a nearby job.
  • The contractor proposes an unrealistic timetable (such as grading, preparing and paving a driveway in one afternoon).
  • The contractor does not appear to have the proper equipment for the job.
  • The contractor uses high pressure tactics to persuade you.
  • The contactor quotes a price that seems too good to be true.
  • The contractor is unable or unwilling to provide any references or is not listed with the Better Business Bureau or on file with the Vanderburgh County Building Commission.
  • The contractor claims to be from out of town, or claims to be local but his vehicle displays an out of state license plate.

From experience, we offer the following suggestions to help avoid becoming the victim of home improvement fraud:

  • Don’t commit to a home improvement project on the spur of the moment.
  • Select a contractor with care. Check with the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General’s Office and the Better Business Bureau to determine if the contractor you are considering has a history of complaints.
  • Deal locally. Use an established contractor with ties to the community.
  • Be wary of a low price. Time and material drive the price of any job. If a bid seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Don’t commit to a job unless you have been given a formal bid. Project bids should be in writing and clearly spell out what work is to be performed.
  • Indiana law requires written home improvement contracts for jobs exceeding $150.00. Before signing a contract, make certain it clearly defines: the material to be used, the work to be performed, the timetable for completion, and the total price along with provisions for any contingency expenses. Make sure the contractor’s name and contact information appears on the contract. The contractor must sign the contract and leave you a copy.
  • Verify the contractor is licensed, bonded and insured. Contact the Vanderburgh County Building Commission to verify a contractor’s license is in good standing.
  • Avoid paying for a project until the work is completed; if this is unavoidable never pay more than 1/3 of the total cost as a down payment.
  • A reputable contractor should guarantee his workmanship. Get a copy of any warranty or guarantee in writing.
  • Retain all records related to the project, including any correspondence.

Even when both parties are dealing in good faith, disputes can still arise. If you have exhausted all efforts to resolve a disagreement with your contractor, consider filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. The Consumer Protection Division of the Indiana Attorney General’s Office can also be a valuable resource to assist in resolving a dispute.

Contractors who receive payment and never perform work (or perform the work so poorly as to constitute obvious fraud) should be immediately reported to the Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Office by calling 911. Home improvement fraud is a crime in Indiana and can be charged under both IC 35-43-6-12 (Home Improvement Fraud) and IC 35-43-4-2 (Theft). The law also provides for enhanced penalties if a victim is sixty (60) years of age or older.

Final Thoughts
Thankfully, the Sheriff’s Office has had no confirmed reports of any home improvement fraud occurring this year. Sheriff Dave Wedding would like to keep it that way, “Those who commit home improvement fraud are a particularly deceptive form of criminal. Perpetrators often mix a small amount of truth in amongst their lies.” Sheriff Wedding added, “Homeowners should exercise due diligence, avail themselves of consumer protection services, and promptly notify the Sheriff’s Office of any suspected fraud. Together we can make home improvement fraudsters think twice before visiting our county.”

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