Physicians a Prime Target for Summertime Remodeling Scams

May 1, 2012

As the weather heats up, so do scams that target your habits and spending patterns, including remodeling work to your home or medical practice.

As the weather heats up, so do scams that target your habits and spending patterns. The variety of fraud schemes targeting physicians and other affluent professionals has risen dramatically as the economy continues to sputter and knowing that this is a great time to repaint, build pools, patios, and generally spruce up both your residence and practice space, both good builders and con operators kick up their marketing at this time of year. Watch the mail carefully over the next 30 days and you’ll see an increased number of flyers and postcards as well as walk-around solicitors leaving flyers on your gates and mailboxes.

Below is an outline of the most current and prevalent fact patterns to look out for in remodeling scams, which are consistently among the Better Business Bureau’s top five complaint issues.

I’m Doing It for Everyone Else

Be careful of those offering unsolicited appraisals and those are too specific about the number of your neighbors they are doing the same work for. You’ll notice that they ask your name when they approach you at the door. At the next stop they’ll point to your house and tell your neighbors they “have already been hired by Dr. Sloane next door to remodel.”

I’ve Done a Million of These

Always have and carefully read a written contract that specifies estimated labor, materials, and a completion date. Deal only with licensed contractors and check that they are actually licensed in your state and that their bond and insurance is in good standing for yourself with your state’s registrar of contractors. Most good contractors can offer professional references as well. Be wary of out of state license plates and cards with out of state cell phone numbers as the only contact. The contractor will be hard to find, let alone hold accountable for any defects, if he or she is a gypsy that travels from state to state.

We Give Discounts for Cash and or Upfront Payment

Avoid prepaying as much as possible and never pay for the whole job upfront. Every contractor has different policies (that they set for themselves) but many will start with a reasonable down payment that covers initial material and some labor and allow multiple payments as the work progresses. Those offering huge discounts for prepayments and cash are often those who come in a start a job, demo your garage or office waiting room, and then leave you with a pile of lumber never to be seen again. They like cash as opposed to credit cards because it “saves me the merchant fees” and while this is true realize that you saving them three percent on credit card fees will not allow them to bid the job for 40 percent less than everyone else; if it sounds too good to be true, watch your wallet.

The Materials Bid Was Off

Carefully review the materials portion of your written bid and make sure it is specific as to the grade, color, and type of construction your plans require. “Replace flooring in patio” is quite different than, “Scrape and replace patio tile with #3 travertine in desert sand.” Look at the measurements and make sure they make sense and match the measurements and square footage you’d expect. You be amazed how many millions of feet of lumber flooring, drywall, and carpet people pay for but never see, which leads us to our final warning …

We Had Some Extra Materials from a Job and Were Right Down the Street

This uses several techniques in combination: the impossible bargain, a one-time-only deal and a time pressure, “We’ve got to get this done today to give you this price.” What they left out? “We can only do this because we happen to have two ex-cons in a van down the street with carpet (roofing, tile, lumber, etc.) some other sucker who couldn’t figure out his material math payed for and while we are there we’d love to case your house for a burglary next month.”

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