Scams, Schemes & Frauds Impacting Older Adults and How to Avoid Being a Victim: Contractor Fraud
To help keep Florida’s seniors safe, we put together some tips on how to combat scammers who might target seniors for their fraudulent practices, schemes, and other scams when it comes to home improvement or repairs. This information is especially important in the wake of hurricane season.
How does the scam work? In this scam, scammers (usually working in teams of two or more) canvass neighborhoods with older residents, knocking on doors to inform the occupants that something in the home needs fixing. Usually, they are routine repairs such as a hole in the roof, a clogged pipe, or gutter work. The scammers demand payment up front and then say that after further inspecting the problem, it is more serious and will require more work (and more money). If they do any work to “repair” the problem, the work is usually low quality because the scammers are unlicensed. In one variation of this scam, one scammer works to distract the homeowner while another enters the home to steal money and valuables. Most reputable home contractors will not approach you about repairs to your home. In another variation of this scam, a scammer may put out false advertisement in a newspaper or online and appear to be reputable. However, this is not always the case and can involve fraudulent contracts to obtain payment, or the contractor may be involved in insurance fraud.
Tips on how to avoid being a victim of contractor fraud:
- Obtain more than one bid for the job
- Pay special attention to contractors who intend to bill your home insurance
- Insist that the contract be in writing
- Don’t pay the contractor before you read and sign a contract
- Don’t pay the contractor more than 1/3 of the contract price to begin work
- Sign a contract before the work begins and keep a copy for your records
- Contract must state the exact work to be done and include start and completion dates along with the total cost of the project (be specific)
- Obtain the name, physical address (not P.O. box) and phone number of the contractor.
- Get the license number and the name the license is under (this information should be listed on the contract)
- Check to see if the contractor is registered with the State of Florida by going to: Sunbiz.org and conducting a name search on the Division of Corporations site.
- Check for complaints with the Better Business Bureau
- Never make final payment until you are completely satisfied with the work
Resources if you or someone you know has been impacted by contractor fraud:
The Florida Department of Elder Affairs has a hotline to report elder abuse, including exploitation at 1(800) 96-ABUSE (1(800) 962-2873). (TTY 1 (800) 955-8771). In addition, the Department of Elder Affairs has a Florida Senior Legal Helpline that provides free legal advice and brief service by phone to eligible seniors age 60 and older. The toll-free number is 1(888)895-7873.
The Florida Attorney General has announced a Senior Protection Team, whose focus is protecting Florida’s seniors from civil, criminal, and healthcare fraud. You can learn more about the team and report senior fraud here. You can also call the Fraud Hotline 1(866) 966-7226.
The Seniors vs Crime Project Senior Sleuths assist people involved in civil disputes with contractors and other businesses or individuals who may have defrauded or otherwise taken advantage of them financially. There is no charge. Seniors vs Crime Hotline 1(800)203-3099.