SALT LAKE COUNTY (ABC4 News) – As the dust settles from this week’s powerful wind storm, the Utah Department of Commerce expects a spike in demand for contractors as Utahns work to repair their property damage. But experts warn that spike may also come with an increase in scams.
“Utah is full of many fantastic businesses that want to do it the right way and take the steps necessary. But with that being said, emergencies lend themselves to scammers and to people trying to take advantage of the circumstances,” said Daniel O’Bannon, Director of the Division of Consumer Protection.
Martin Aasheim, a Midvale resident knows the impact first-hand. He paid two contractors upfront that he found through online classifieds to fix his water leak and floors.
“I wanted the job done as quickly as possible because I didn’t want to live without any flooring in my house. But I’m a very trusting person. The contractors ending up taking all my money and never completed the work,” he said.
Experts said there are a number of red flags and warning signs that consumers should look out for when it comes to scams:
- Door-to-door solicitations
- High pressure sales
- Scare tactics
- Demand for cash
- Unusually large down payments
- Verbal agreements
- Extremely low bids
- No permanent place of business
- No contract
- No insurance
- Inadequate references
- Special deals
O’Bannon said the most important thing a consumer can do when hiring a contractor is to get everything in writing and draft up a contract.
“As a consumer, you should know, in detail, what kind of work you’re going to be receiving, what materials will be used, the equipment to be installed, when you’re going to be receiving that work, and how much you’ll be paying along the way,” he said.
Next, verify the contractor’s license to ensure that they’re registered to perform the work you want. You can double-check that information through the Utah Department of Commerce’s Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing website. Just click on the “verify a license” button on their front page.
Search up reviews from other clients or ask the contractor to provide three references. When speaking to the references, ask if they were satisfied with the work they paid for and if the contractor kept to the schedule and contract terms.
Based on experience, Aasheim advises other consumers not to pay for any project upfront. Experts agree, pointing out that the down payment made for work to begin should be minimal. Set up a payment schedule that follows the work as it’s completed. Don’t make the final payment until the job is done.
Don’t always go for the cheapest bid. Get two to three estimates and look at the cost and quality of materials used in each one. Make sure the estimate includes the total price.
“That’s an unfortunate reality. But it’s one that we have to grapple with and so we want to make sure that consumers take steps to protect themselves from trying to take advantage of them in the wake of this emergency,” said O’Bannon.