Reghan Winkler: Avoiding the Fraudulent Contractor
How did a Chesterfield, Virginia couple turn $800 into over $5,000 in a matter of months?
This is not a story of $5000 in gains, but in losses. They hired Thomas Ray Lee, a man posing as a licensed contractor, to complete $800 repairs to their patio.
According to the victims, Lee was a smooth talker. “He (Lee) called me and said he thought the decking boards were dry rotted and I might need a brand new deck with new decking boards.”
According to Alycia Reid, the victim, what was once a small $800 project quickly became a $4,300 investment. She sent $3,000 to the fraudulent contractor in two separate Venmo payments. Lee began the project by dismantling the bridge. Shortly after, he claimed he was injured in a car accident and canceled the project. He not only stopped the project, he also stopped answering his calls and texts. Unfortunately, he didn’t issue a refund either. The Reids spent an additional $1,200 to repair the damage caused by Lee. “So we’re looking at $5,000 we’re in right now because of this guy,” Reid said.
Other victims have come forward and there are now three outstanding warrants for the arrest of Thomas Ray Lee.
Recognizing a shady contractor is often not difficult. For example, Reid said she should have been alarmed when there was no business address listed on the receipts he gave her. Another of Lee’s victims said she should have known something was wrong when the contractor showed up at her house in an Uber.
Here are some other signs of a fraudulent contractor and what to do to avoid becoming a victim:
• Ask for a quote in writing and obtain a written contract before paying anything and before starting work. A contract should include a detailed description of the work, material costs, start and completion dates, and any warranty information.
• Never pay the full amount in advance or only pay in cash. Contractors should not request more than 10-15% of the total project before starting. Negotiate payments to be made as work is completed. Before paying the completed amount, ensure that the work is fully completed to your standards and complies with all codes.
• If a contractor fails to pay its suppliers for building materials, those suppliers can sue you for the cost of those materials. Put a stipulation in the contract that you don’t have to pay the contractor until the material suppliers have been paid.
• Insist on seeing references. Ask detailed questions of past clients, including whether the project was completed on time and if there were any unexpected costs.
• Get multiple offers, but don’t automatically take the lowest offer. The competition is tough and some contractors use inferior materials and cut corners in order to offer a lower bid. Also ask friends and family if they can recommend a reputable contractor.
• Before signing a contract, call us at the Better Business Bureau to find out the contractor’s rating and any complaints filed against them. Our number is 419-223-7010.
• Never agree to obtain the necessary building permits yourself. This is the contractor’s responsibility.
• Don’t let the contractor arrange the financing for you. Fraudulent contractors have often arranged for the lender to pay them directly, giving them little incentive to complete a job or do it properly.
We have many very reputable contractors in our area who do great work at a fair price. Following the tips above will help you find them and avoid being scammed.
Reghan Winkler is Executive Director of the Better Business Bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB can be found on the Internet at bbb.org/us/oh/lima.