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First page of handout about home repair scams from Maryland Attorney General's office

Protect Yourself From Home Improvement Scams – Updated for 2024

Protect Yourself From Home Improvement Scams

Home repair scammers can strike any time of the year, but Spring and Summer tend to really bring them out of their holes as homeowners look to fix roofs, pave driveways, paint siding, build decks, and repair plumbing. We constantly hear and read stories about homeowners who have lost hundreds or thousands of dollars to “contractors” who do jobs poorly, don’t finish jobs, or never even start them. Don’t fall prey to one of these scams – learn the common tricks these charlatans use, methods to prevent falling victim to one of them, and what recourse may exist if you have gotten scammed.

Common Home Improvement Scams

The Ghost Contractor:

Skim through NextDoor or Facebook and you’re bound to see complaints by homeowners who gave a significant deposit to a “contractor” who then disappeared completely, either immediately or after doing a little bit of work. These scammers typically give fake contact information (sometimes from a real company!) or somehow manage to supply no contact information at all while extracting money from their mark. Here’s a recent news story about a driveway scammer in the DC area.

The Bait and Switch:

Another common tactic is a faux contractor offering an attractive repair price, only to jack up the price or “discover” expensive repairs that need to be done. The “contractor” may even intentionally damage your property while “discovering” the new problem. This story from Minneapolis is particularly shocking – scammers knocked on the door and offered to fix a loose shingle for $100, only to tear up most of the roof and demand $40,000 to fix “rotted” wood underneath.

Inferior Materials and Workmanship:

In this case, the scammers actually do the work, but with inferior products and improper methods. Only after a period of time is the poor quality obvious to the customer, and by then they have little recourse, especially if the contractors were not licensed and insured.

How to Avoid Being a Home Improvement Scam Victim

Carefully Check Licenses and Insurance:

Every contractor license can be verified with the issuing agency or regulator. Some scammers will just give up if you ask for a license, but others present false credentials, either completely invented or copied from an actual licensed contractor. So always check with the issuing authority – and the company – to verify the license number and actual holder. For professional licenses in Maryland, you can consult this Department of Labor webpage.

Be Skeptical of Unsolicited Repair Offers:

Scammers often make calls door-to-door to ask if you have issues or suggest a project. They also post or respond on websites like NextDoor or Facebook. When you personally research and reach out to contractors about a problem, or get a referral directly from a friend or business, you are far less likely to find yourself entangled in a scam.

Avoid Large, Upfront Payments:

Most reputable, honest service companies do not ask for payment upfront, and the key to many scams is getting money in hand without doing any work. If a “contractor” asks for a deposit or money to buy materials, be very careful. We recently saw a post on NextDoor complaining about a plumbing company that took money “to buy parts” and then never returned. And this company actually had some recommendations on the site! So always be skeptical of requests for money upfront.

Other Resources

The Montgomery County Police Department website has a page dedicated to home improvement scams.

And the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General has a great handout that you can read and share with others:

First page of handout about home repair scams from Maryland Attorney General's office
Click for full pdf handout.