Time to look out for home repair fraud
OREGON, IL–Home repair fraud season is in full bloom, and if last year is any indication, Ogle County homeowners will need to be on the lookout for a variety of potential scams.
We had numerous complaints of fraudulent or potentially fraudulent businesses working in the area last spring and summer, States Attorney Doug Floski said. In fact, we sent a man to prison for three years for defrauding a senior citizen in a roofing scam.
As a result, the States Attorneys Office is reminding people of the services of its Seasonal Scam Prevention Program. Since its inception seven years ago, dozens of home repair investigations have been conducted, and several have been forwarded to the Illinois Attorney Generals Office for statewide investigation.
We have made several arrests and secured restitution in numerous cases, Floski said. In one of our most serious cases, we secured $5,000 restitution for a local senior citizen who was victimized by a home repair fraud.
But our real goal is prevention. If people contact us before they sign a contract, we can often tip them off to problems.
States Attorneys Office Special Investigator Hale Guyer, who conducts fraud investigations, said that senior citizens are most often targeted for home repair frauds.
Those seniors who live alone or are unable to do their own repairs are particularly vulnerable, Guyer said. And though home repair fraud occurs year-round, its a particular problem in rural communities in the spring.
Floski said the prevention program allows county residents to request a mini-investigation of a home repair service before entering into a contract. By contacting the States Attorneys Office, citizens can find out if complaints have been filed with area law enforcement agencies against a worker or a company, or if the Attorney Generals Office has issued a statewide alert regarding the company.
Even if a contract has been signed, we can advise people how to get out of it, Floski said. State law allows people to cancel any contractfor any reasonwithin three days of signing. That cooling-off period can be used to contact our office for help.
Driveway resurfacing, roofing scams and
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other home repairs are perennial favorites of scam artists. As opposed to legitimate contractors, these fraudulent businesses use cheap materials and do sub-standard work, if they perform the work at all.
Guyer said there are several warning signs that a proposal is fraudulent: Request of money before the work is performed, or request of a deposit in excess of 50 percent of the estimated bill; refusal to provide a written estimate or a signed contract agreement; pressure tactics, such as implying that the work must be done immediately.
While home repair emergencies do occur, Guyer said, the rush job usually means the worker does not want the homeowner to get a second opinion, or to check with a family member or a trusted friend.
Other warning signs are when workers come to your home without being called, and workers who do not have an office or a local telephone number, or an address within a reasonable distance of Ogle County.
The vast majority of home repair and yard work services are legitimate and are staffed by competent professionals, Floski said. The problem tends to arise with the traveling businesses.
Floski said he does not think Ogle County has any more problems with scams than other rural communities, but he said home repair fraud tends to be an underreported crime.
People are often embarrassed to contact us once they realize theyve been taken, Floski said. We encourage them to set aside those feelings and report any crime. If they dont want to call us, they can call the Illinois Attorney General.
Floski said his office will not advise homeowners on whether work should be performed or whether a price seems reasonable. Rather, they will attempt to get homeowners the information they need to make their decision.
To make an inquiry in Ogle County, residents can contact Floski or Guyer at 732-1170. Residents may also contact the Illinois Attorney Generals Consumer Fraud Protection Division in Chicago at 1-800-386-5438; or in Springfield at 1-800-243-0618.