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Warm weather brings out home-improvement scams

SHARON CASKEY HAYES • Mar 23, 2007 at 10:54 AM

KINGSPORT - Connie Vicars was mowing her yard on a warm day last spring when a pickup truck pulled alongside the road and stopped.

The driver emerged from the truck, saying he had some paving material he could lay on top of Vicars' gravel drive at the back of the house.

Suspicious, Vicars told the man she wasn't interested. His truck didn't bear the name of any business, and she was concerned the offer was just a scam.

"He jumped in his truck and turned around in my yard and left. He was hitting people all along my street," said Vicars, who lives along Reservoir Road near Bays Mountain. "Everybody wants to trust people, but you just can't. Not in this day and time."

Vicars, whose husband, father and two brothers work in the construction field, suspected she was the target of a potential scam.

But many folks might not.

The Better Business Bureau advises consumers to beware of door-to-door home improvement scams - particularly during the spring months.

"Around this time you have to watch for your home remodelers, your travelers where you've got people that go door-to-door offering home repairs," said Jeanie Hoskins, with the Better Business Bureau of Greater East Tennessee.

She said a common scam at this time of year involves paving driveways. Typically, the con artist approaches potential victims at their homes, offering to pave a driveway with leftover asphalt from another job nearby.

"Then the first rain comes and everything goes down the drain," Hoskins said.

She said con artists particularly target seniors, initially telling them they'll charge a low price for the work, but then demanding a much higher fee instead.

"A lot of times they'll come back a little later and the price is three, four, five times higher than what they thought it was going to be," Hoskins said.

If the senior refuses to pay, the scammer threatens to put a lien on the property, Hoskins said.

"It scares them and they give them the money," she said.

Sometimes, the scammers do more damage than anything else. Tom Weinman, with Bracken Paving in Blountville, said his company has received calls from people who've fallen victim to the scam.

"Unfortunately in 9 times out of 10, we either have to take it (asphalt) all up, or we're able to put a cap over it which is another two inches," Weinman said.

And victims end up paying twice - once to the con artists and then to the legitimate company called in to undo what was done.

"Usually they're paying more than they would if they had called us or somebody else who is local and has been in business for a while, to do it right the first time," Weinman said.

Hoskins said there are ways folks can protect themselves.

Homeowners should make sure the contractor is licensed, bonded and insured to conduct home improvement work in the state.

Also, homeowners should get all work agreements in writing, including price.

The contractor should have a physical location in the vicinity where the homeowner can go if there is a problem with the work.

The Better Business Bureau also advises consumers to get at least two or three bids from prospective contractors for home improvement projects. Never let someone intimidate you into making quick decisions.

And never pay up-front for a job. Wait until the project is completed to your satisfaction, and then pay with a check or credit card, not cash, the Better Business Bureau advises.

And if an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. "A bargain is not a bargain if it washes down the drain," Hoskins said.

For more information about home improvement scams and other con artist games, visit the Better Business Bureau at www.bbb.org or call the Better Business Bureau of Greater East Tennessee at (865) 692-1600.

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