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4 Common Home Contractor Scams and How to Avoid Them

Andrew Tavin, CFEI
Andrew Tavin is a personal finance writer who covered budgeting with expertise in building credit and saving for OppU. His work has been cited by Wikipedia, Crunchbase, and Hacker News, and he is a Certified Financial Education Instructor through the National Financial Educators Council.
Read time: 4 min
Updated on May 16, 2022
young man in white shirt learning about 4 common home contractor scams and how to avoid them
Be on the lookout for deals that are too good to be true, demands for excess payment upfront, and scammers straight up "paving" your driveway with black paint.

Your home is practically a member of your family. You dress it up, spend time together, and can feel comfortable by its presence. And it protects all the other members of your family, too. That’s why you never want to let anyone damage your house.

Take shady home contractors, for instance. At best, they’ll do a perfectly fine job renovating your house but overcharge you for it. At worst, they could do a lackluster job or may not even carry out the renovations at all.

Thankfully, Justin Lavelle, Chief Communications Officer for is here to his insights on the kinds of contractor scams you should be looking out for.

1. “Extra materials.”

You might think scams only happen online these days, but you might still get people coming to your door, trying to rip you off the old-fashioned way. Here’s one example Lavelle warned us about:

“A contractor knocks on your door and claims to have extra materials from a job he just completed down the street. Not wanting to take a loss on the supplies, he offers to pave your driveway or patch your roof for a smoking-good deal.

“As tempting as a good deal is, don’t be fooled. The con artist ‘contractor’ will start working and then claim to find an issue that makes him raise the price of the job. Then if you object, the contractor might walk away, leaving you with a half-finished project.

“Or he or she may also take your money and run.”

According to Lavelle, things can also go in a more Looney Toons-esque direction: “Another way this situation could go: He paints your driveway with black paint instead of paving it with asphalt. Then you watch it wash away the next time it rains and cry. How to protect yourself: Never hire a contractor on the spot. Read reviews and make sure they do quality work before making any deals.”

But of course, they won’t always be coming to your door.

2. “I have a special offer today.”

Slightly more advanced than just showing up in person, scammers will also try and get you via the written word!

“This home improvement scam usually starts from a newspaper ad or mailer that advertises a home service for a ridiculously low price,” explained Lavelle. “After you call and request services, they’ll quote you for a slew of ‘problems' your house has.

“Worried that they need to get these fixes done, unsuspecting homeowners empty their pockets and the contractor leaves without finishing or doing any work at all. How to protect yourself: Confirm that the contractor’s business is legal, licensed and registered. Request to see a business license and proof of insurance.”

And then there are business practices that are good to maintain regardless of who you’re dealing with.

3. “I’ll need the money upfront …”

You always want to be careful about what money you’re willing to offer in advance.

“A conning contractor will tell you that he’ll need a percentage of the project cost upfront,” Lavelle told us. “He might tell you the reason is because he needs to order materials or rent supplies.

“But once you pay him, he’ll disappear. Or he’ll do a poor job, thinking you can’t fire him because you’ve already paid him hundreds, or thousands. How to protect yourself: Down payments are a standard practice, but should never be unreasonable. Check the rules in your state regarding down payment limits. Some states limit down payments to 10 percent of the project price or $1,000, whichever is less. Also, before hiring any one contractor, get at least three different estimates.”

And one thing you never want to trust when it comes to business...

4. “Take my word for it.”

There’s a reason lawyers will tell you to always get everything in writing.

“While talking with your contractor about the repairs you’d like made, you add in a couple ideas,” outlined Lavelle. “He gets excited about the ideas and even makes his own suggestions.

“You don’t put these ideas into your contact agreement because you think you had such a clear verbal understanding.

“Then you’re surprised when the contractor says those upgrades weren’t included in the price—and that you’ll have to fork over more money for them. How to protect yourself: Always get everything in writing. A legal contract is your safety net, should any issues arise. Be sure to review every detail before signing.  If you are not comfortable, ask an attorney to review it before you sign. It’s a worthwhile investment to avoid problems on the back end.”

Before hiring any contractor, do your homework.

Lavelle left us with some general advice about how to protect yourself from scam contractors. Folks living in Florida should be on especially high alert as scammers pretty much run rampant in that state, especially in the aftermath of a hurricane or other natural disaster

“Before you allow any individual to enter your home," says Lavelle, "ask them for credentials. The contractor should be able to provide you with identification and license numbers. Another level of protection is to write down the contractor’s vehicle tag number in addition to taking a photo of him or her."

It also doesn’t hurt to check online reviews. Be wary, and you won’t get taken advantage of!

Article contributors
Justin Lavelle

Justin Lavelle is a Scams Prevention Expert and the Chief Communications Officer of (@BeenVerified). BeenVerified is a leading source of online background checks and contact information. It helps people discover, understand and use public data in their everyday lives and can provide peace of mind by offering a fast, easy and affordable way to do background checks on potential dates. BeenVerified allows individuals to find more information about people, phone numbers, email addresses and property records.

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