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Contractor scams: It must be spring

Posted by Mitch Lipka  April 16, 2012 04:37 PM

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What do you think of when you hear the word “spring?” Crocuses sprouting? Buds on trees? Warming temperatures?

How about home improvement scams?

Spring was but a few days old when the Worcester Police Department issued a scam alert about pavers going door-to-door with a story about having leftover asphalt so they could fill your driveway potholes -- cheap. Then, surprise, they tell you that you owe them a lot more money. They tend to target seniors, who are often more likely to succumb to face-to-face pressure.

No need to think only about pavers. They just as easily could have been sketchy roofers or shady jacks of some other trade.

To avoid a scam contractor, there are a few simple steps to take. The best place to start is the state Department of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation list of contractor registrations. To get the protections provided by law, you need to be sure the contractor you want to use is on that list.

Home improvement contractors are required by state law to be registered with the state. The contractor should apply for and obtain (rather than you doing it) a municipal permit for any job that requires one. Permitting is another step that gives the consumer some oversight – making both a record of the work and bringing an inspector to check that it’s done according to code.

The state does not require contractors to have liability insurance, so it’s on you to be sure they’re covered in case of an accident on the job. Be sure to ask for a copy of the cover sheet of their policy. Evaluate who you’re planning to hire. Ask around for recommendations. Check the Better Business Bureau complaint database.

Invite at least three to evaluate the job and provide estimates in writing. You’ll have a chance to compare their personalities, approach and what they’re charging. Specifics should be in writing (materials, dates, and the like) with payment at various stages of completion and no more than one-third paid upfront. Pay with a credit card or by check so you have a written record of your payments.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Mitch Lipka is one of America's leading consumer journalists and advocates. He is an expert in product safety, recalls, scams, and helping consumers get out of jams. He is a nationally known consumer columnist and runs He lives in Worcester. You can find him on Facebook or reach him at


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