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BBB Tips column: Spring into action and avoid home improvement fraud

Thursday, April 24, 2014 - 8:48 am

This is a consumer advice column written by the Better Business Bureau of Northern Indiana. It appears Thursdays in Business.

With the arrival of warmer weather, communities may see a rise in home improvement fraud reports. Unfortunately, there are those who will take advantage of people, especially the elderly and those who are very trusting. But, no one is immune. There are numerous ways that unscrupulous contractors work to gain your trust. In some cases, the check will be for the entire cost of the job to be done or a significant amount, and the contractor will do a little work but never return to finish the task.

BBB offers some tips:

•Consider how the outside of your home is decorated. Home improvement frauds look for signs that the home is inhabited by an elderly person: the display of religious items in the windows or on the porch, or wheelchair ramps and handrails.

•Never allow someone you don't know into your home. Keep a locked door between you and the individual. Let them know you will get back to them.

•Never give 100 percent of the money for the cost of a project.

•Get a written contract with all portions completed, with start and end dates for the work being done.

•Get more than one quote from reliable contractors, and don't be pressured into making a quick decision. Ask for references and check them out.

•Start your search with BBB. Check that the contractor is properly licensed, and contact the county building department to verify.

•Never give cash. Use a check or credit card.

The Federal Trade Commission's rule gives consumers three business days to cancel a contract (over $25) signed at a private residence, motel or other temporary location. This “cooling off period” applies to cash and credit transactions. The seller is required to provide the buyer “notice of cancellation” papers at the time of the transaction. Note: The first day is the day you sign the contract. In Indiana, Saturday is considered a business day.

There are excellent contractors out there who will do great work for you. Compare quotes “apples to apples.” The cheapest quote is not always the best quote.

Marjorie Stephens is the communications director for the Better Business Bureau of Northern Indiana. Before you make a purchase, go to the BBB website at or call 423-4433 or toll-free 1-800-552-4631 to check out a business.