Home renovation fraud often involves door-to-door paving contractors
According to Service Alberta, home renovation fraud is one of the most common complaints received by the agency, costing Alberta homeowners hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.
With home renovation season and the official start of spring and just days away, the agency is warning Albertans to be on the look out for home fix-it fraudsters.
Yonathan Sumamo of Service Alberta says a frequent source of consumer complaints involves door-to-door paving contractors. In a typical scam, a contractor arrives at a consumer’s home without an appointment and claims to have leftover asphalt from another job in the area. The fraudster then offers the homeowner a discount for paving jobs.
The quality of the asphalt and work is usually poor, with driveways falling apart within days. Unfortunately, by the time consumers notice the problems, the pavers have left the area, making it difficult for consumers to address problems directly.
Recently, Service Alberta’s Consumer Investigations Unit investigated complaints into similar incidents involving Michael George MacDonald and his company, Highway Maintenance & Asphalt Repair Ltd.
As a result of the investigation, MacDonald and his company were convicted on 44 counts under the Fair Trading Act in relation to paving scams 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.