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Don’t fall for these seasonal home-repair scams

The Treasure Valley’s relatively warm, sunny weather has been deceptive for November, but winter is coming. Many homeowners will begin preparing their homes for cooler weather by hiring specialists to clean and make repairs.

The Better Business Bureau advises you to stay alert. Scammers see this time as an opportunity to rip-off homeowners, and in some cases, steal thousands of dollars for unnecessary work.

Door-to-door scammers work to make themselves appear legitimate, even wearing safety vests and name tags, speaking professionally and offering oral estimates. Problems arise when they take money and never return to complete the work, or the work is shoddy, or the final price is much higher than the estimate.

Even if you aren’t seeing some of these scams target your neighborhood, think of family and friends in other areas and make sure they know what to watch for.

Common home-repair schemes include:

Chimney/roof repairs: Scammers disguised as chimney sweeps tell victims their chimneys or roofs needs to be inspected, and then use hard-sell tactics to get homeowners to make expensive, unfounded repairs.

Gutter cleaning: Fraudulent gutter cleaners tend to prey on the elderly or those who cannot clean their gutters easily. They will claim they have worked in the neighborhood before, and quote a very low estimate in return for low-quality, incomplete work.

Energy audits and door-to-door furnace repairs: Scammers claiming to offer local utility companies offer “free” energy audits to reduce heating costs. They insist on costly upgrades in the attic, such as solar blankets or insulation. In some in cases, they are robbing homes or casing them for future thefts.

Ductwork cleaning: Ductwork cleaning is rarely a necessity, so use caution. Scammers are known to damage heating systems while cleaning to leech more money for repairs. They also may create indoor air hazards.

Watch for a few clues that you may be dealing with a scammer:

▪  “Repairmen” come to your door unexpectedly. Never let anyone you have not called inside your home. Do your research and verify the company and representative independently. In the meantime, ask the person at your door for a card. Never make an on-the-spot decision.

▪  Without much inspection, a repairman quickly points out a problem he says needs to be fixed. If there’s an issue with your home, get multiple quotes and opinions before moving forward with the first one.

▪  A contractor says he has leftover materials from a project just finished nearby. This is a common scam tactic.

▪  A solicitor offers unbelievably low prices and accepts cash or checks only. Before moving forward with work, get the estimate and contract in writing. Pay by credit card to ensure protection from fraud.

▪  Watch for “unconditional guarantees.” Real companies have warranty policies that outline what is and isn’t covered. Insist on any oral agreements in writing.

Emily Valla, emily.valla@thebbb.org, is the Idaho marketplace director for the Better Business Bureau Northwest. To check a business or report a scam, go to www.bbb.org or call (208) 342-4649.

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