Don’t become a victim of home renovation fraud
Spring is just days away, a time when many consumers’ thoughts turn to home renovations. Fraud Prevention Month is a good time to remind homeowners to protect themselves against deceitful contractors.
Home renovation fraud is one of the most common complaints received by Service Alberta and costs homeowners in the province hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.
A frequent source of complaints involves door-to-door paving contractors. In a typical scam, a contractor arrives at a consumer’s home without warning, claims to have leftover asphalt from another job in the area and offers a discount for paving jobs.
The quality of the asphalt and work provided is usually poor, with driveways falling apart within days. By the time consumers notice problems, the pavers have left the area making it difficult for consumers to address problems directly.
Service Alberta’s Consumer Investigations Unit recently investigated complaints into one similar incident. Michael George MacDonald and his company, Highway Maintenance & Asphalt Repair Ltd., were convicted on 44 counts under the Fair Trading Act in relation to a paving scam that primarily targeted the elderly in various rural communities across Alberta.
In November 2014, MacDonald and his company were fined nearly $887,000 and ordered to make restitution of nearly $138,000.
Service Alberta urges consumers to take the following steps to protect themselves:
- If a contractor wants payment up front, first make sure they are on a list of licensed and bonded businesses at servicealberta.ca or by calling the Consumer Contact Centre toll-free at 1-877-427-4088.
- Check references and confirm the contractor’s complaint history through the local Better Business Bureau.
- Get at least three estimates before entering into a contract.
- Always get estimates and contracts in writing; make sure they include key dates, cancelation rights and a description of materials to be used.
- Beware of unsolicited door-to-door offers or deals from contractors who “just happen” to be in the area.
- Homeowners should also consider holding back a portion of the payment, which allows them time to deal with any deficiencies and ensure suppliers have been paid.
- Don’t pay a large deposit to renovators for materials. Most reputable contractors maintain charge accounts with their suppliers.
This month marks the 11th anniversary of the innovative Fraud Prevention Month partnership across Canada. Service Alberta works with law enforcement, other levels of government and business groups to help Albertans:
- recognize fraud in its various forms;
- learn how and where to report it; and
- how to stop fraud before a scammer cheats someone out of their hard-earned money.