A Burnaby homeowner who was victimized by a scam involving shady contractors and driveway work says it could have been a lot worse.
But Paul says he was saved at the last second when one scammer quoted a price that was different than the other scammer he had dealt with.
Paul contacted the NOW after reading about the Better Business Bureau saying it’s received dozens of reports of “unscrupulous contractors who trick homeowners with supposedly good deals,” said a news release. Homeowners end up with shoddy paving work, or nothing at all, with some persons paying over $8,000 in the process.
“That sounds like my experience,” said Paul, who lives in South Burnaby. “One guy convinced me about what seemed like a good deal, but he kept pushing for money up front. I said once they showed up, I would pay something. When they arrived, another one of them quoted me a higher price so I asked the other guy what was up and that’s when they harassed me right in my own driveway. They really pressured me and that’s when I told them to get lost. But they had already damaged my driveway so I now have to get that fixed. It was awful.”
How the Scam Works
A contractor leaves a pamphlet or shows up at the door, says a news release. They claim they have been doing work in the area and just happened to notice the condition of your driveway or sidewalk. Since they are already working nearby, they can give you a discount. If the price is agreeable, they will then ask for a large percentage of the fee or the total amount up front.
Once they have received the money, the scam contractor may promise to start the job within a few days and then disappear completely. In other cases, the full payment was made and the contractor completed the job, however the work is shoddy and unprofessional. Attempts to follow up with the contractor are futile because of fake contact information or another company was impersonated in the process. As a result, the chances of getting a refund or getting the work fixed are not promising.
“They pressured me into letting them asphalt my driveway,” another victim told the BBB. “They asked for cash and I gave them $5500. The job was completed within the hour and when I called the following day for them to return to discuss issues with the driveway, the line was busy. They also worked on my neighbours’ driveway and collected GST from them but not from us. They put asphalt directly on the neighbour’s ground without a proper base layer or herbicide for grass or weeds. They claimed to have their head office in Calgary with offices in Vancouver, Regina and Winnipeg. When I searched their local address, it was a UPS store. They say there's a guarantee and the company has been around for 1/2 century but when you navigate to their website, it is a copycat web page from another asphalt company. For a business that has been operating for this long and is reputable, you would think there would be advertising on the vehicles and there wasn't any. They operate without a license and also don't have any WorkSafe information.”
How to Avoid Contractor Scams
- Be wary of unsolicited offers. Most scams involving contractors begin when a random contractor makes an effort to go out of their way to offer an estimate that was never asked for.
- Research companies and contractors before you hire. Start with BBB.org. If the contractor has multiple negative reviews and complaints, reconsider hiring them. Often, a simple internet search will reveal companies or individuals that have been involved in fraudulent activities or provided unsatisfactory work to previous clients.
- Get everything in writing. Ask for an estimate in writing before payment is even discussed. Don’t let a contractor start working on a project until a written, signed contract outlining start and complete dates, a detailed description of the work to be provided, material costs, payment arrangements, and warranty information is provided.
- Stagger payments. Most contractors will require a percentage of the total price up front, but it should never be the full price before the work has begun. Instead, make an agreement to stagger payments, so work can be inspected at various stages of the project.
- Use safe payment methods. Paying with a credit card provides some peace of mind since the credit card company will likely offer some recourse if the company is fraudulent. Cheques are also a safe way to pay. Write them out to a company, not an individual. Paying by cash or using an electronic wallet app is risky, since there is no way to stop the payment or get cash back if anything goes wrong.