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SCAM STOPPER: As the weather warms, Attorney General Ellison warns Minnesotans to avoid home improvement scams

April 30, 2024 (SAINT PAUL) — Today, Attorney General Keith Ellison issued a warning to Minnesotans about how to avoid door-to-door home improvement scams.

The warning is part of the Attorney General’s monthly Scam Stopper series, aiming to help protect Minnesota consumers from fraud. Click here to view and download a video message from Attorney General Ellison.

"Every year, homeowners are targeted by scammers trying to cheat people out of their money,” said Attorney General Ellison. “Home improvement schemes crop up when people head back outside to take care of our homes after a long winter, and this year I want to make sure Minnesotans have a few tips to help them avoid getting scammed.”

How the Scam Works

As winter weather subsides and temperatures warm, these door-to-door scams increase. They often take a familiar form: an unknown salesperson traveling through a neighborhood, going house to house with offers to repair homes or driveways at rock-bottom prices, and asking their intended victims to pay up front.

But once money changes hands, the scammers are likely to disappear with the funds, leave work unfinished, perform shoddy work, or overcharge homeowners by adding on unexpected costs.

How It Could Happen

These door-to-door scams take a few common forms. Scammers sometimes look for homes with unpaved or cracked driveways and attempt to pressure homeowners into snap decisions on repairs – suggesting the “bargain” offer is only available if they act now. They might try to persuade homeowners that their driveways should look more like their neighbors’, or that a new driveway would substantially raise the value of their property. These fraudulent contractors often tell homeowners they have leftover materials on hand from previous jobs – like extra asphalt that needs to be laid right away. The work is often shoddily done and is rarely completed.

Scam artists might offer to repair windows or roofs, offer to paint a house’s exterior, or perform yard cleanup. These scams are particularly common after a major storm moves through an area. In these cases, the scammers will often ask for full or partial payment up front, and then disappear without completing – or even beginning – the work. Scammers also may attempt to strong-arm homeowners into contracts that extract additional funds before abandoning the job.

Security alarm scams are also common in the spring and summer. Traveling crews move around Minnesota, selling security alarms and monthly subscriptions to home monitoring services. Scammers often try to convince homeowners that the alarms themselves are free or deeply discounted. Others will even pose as workers with the homeowner’s current alarm company. They’ll use scare tactics, telling stories of neighborhood crime and pressuring homeowners into signing contracts with nearly unreadable fine print. In some cases, homeowners have been locked into five-year subscriptions charging $50 per month for security systems that don’t work or aren’t needed.

How to Protect Yourself

• Don’t fall for pressure tactics

Door-to-door home improvement scams try to trick you into acting immediately. Legitimate companies that want your business allow you time to think about the offer, research your options, and shop around. It should raise red flags if a door-to-door salesman pressures you to make an immediate decision or pay cash in advance.

• Do your research and shop around

If you would like to pursue a home improvement project, ask for references from friends and neighbors who have undertaken similar projects, and then research those businesses. The best recommendations often come from people you trust who have direct experience with a contractor. Consider asking several companies to provide you with bids.

• Contact the Department of Labor and Industry and your local government

Most residential building contractors must be licensed by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. Many municipalities also require contractors or door-to-door salespeople to hold a permit or license. Contact the Department of Labor, and reach out to your local city, municipality, or county for more information on local regulations.

• Beware of missing information

Scam artists tend to use generic business names and include only a phone number on any written materials. They may drive unmarked cars or trucks. Under Minnesota law, door-to-door salespeople must clearly disclose basic information on themselves and their business before trying to sell you anything. If a salesman declines to provide you with identification or other basic information, it is probably best to end the conversation.

• Carefully read contracts, offers, and estimates

Beware of fine print that requires you to pay more than a quoted price or that obligates you to pay for unwanted services that you did not discuss with the contractor. Ask the representative to leave the contract with you for review before you sign it.

• Know your rights

Under Minnesota’s Right to Cancel law, consumers have three days to cancel certain types of purchases made through a door-to-door salesman. If you have signed a contract for goods or services and are having second thoughts, cancel the contract immediately to avoid being locked into unwanted purchases you made while under pressure.

• Trust your instincts

If you have an uneasy feeling about a door-to-door salesperson, just say “no” and shut the door. Don’t continue to engage with a salesperson you have already turned down, and don’t let unknown salespeople into your home. Con artists can be persuasive: the longer you allow them to talk to you, the greater their opportunity to sweet talk you into a decision you might regret. Some might even refuse to leave your home until you sign a contract.

• Don’t pay until the work is done

Or, if applicable for longer projects, pay in increments as work gets completed. Reputable contractors will have enough money on hand to purchase materials themselves and bill you upon completion of the work. Contractors have their own recourses if homeowners fail to pay – like putting a mechanic’s lien on your home.

When a Scam Happens to You

It is essential that Minnesotans report scams to the Attorney General’s Office or to law enforcement. Many people feel embarrassed when a scam happens to them, but the truth is that con artists and scammers are often professionals with years of experience. They are good at what they do, and they count on people feeling too embarrassed to protect others by speaking out. If a scam happens to you, the best thing to do is report it right away.

Reporting a Home Improvement Scam

If a home improvement scam happens to you, here are a few steps to take:

• Promptly notify your local law enforcement agency

• Keep copies of all communications with the scammer

• File a complaint with the Office of Attorney General Keith Ellison online at http://www.ag.state.mn.us. You can also reach the Attorney General’s Office by phone at (651) 296-3353 for Twin Cities residents and (800) 657-3787 for people in Greater Minnesota.

For more information, see this publication from the Attorney General’s Office on home improvement scams.

 

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