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Homeowners warned of increasing contractor, service scams

The Nevada State Contractors Board is warning homeowners, especially the more vulnerable, like senior citizens and non-English speaking residents, to be on the lookout for unsolicited “too good too be true” offers from door-to-door salesmen or inexpensive home services from sites like Craigslist.

Michael Phillips, public information officer for the Nevada State Contractors Board, states that since COVID-19, they have seen an increase in call-in complaints regarding unsolicited people going door-to-door. Apparently, the rise in home-improvements during lockdowns brought opportunity to nefarious individuals looking to take advantage of the trend. With spring being prime home-improvement time, scammers have even greater opportunities to prey on the vulnerable.

This scamming trend is reminiscent of the “Travelers” we’ve seen in years past in various states, including Nevada. In June 2018, NSCB issued a consumer alert regarding “Unlicensed ‘Traveler’ Offering Roof Repairs To Scam Southern Nevada Residents.”

Executive Officer Margi A. Grein explained, “Travelers are known for their well-versed sales tactics, requests for large down payments and performing little or no work in return. Anyone who is unable to provide you with a contractor’s license number should be an instant red flag.”

Whether or not the current flurry of scams is related to “Travelers” has not been announced, but their tactics are similar.

More red flags to look for include:

■ Lack of licensing (look for a license number on their truck).

■ An extremely low bid.

■ A request for a large cash deposit.

■ No insurance and nothing in writing.

■ High-pressure tactics.

■ The homeowner being asked to pull permits (a tell that they have no license).

Besides obvious marks like seniors, scammers target new homeowners and houses in need of painting or in disrepair. Phillips shared a couple of cautionary cases that occurred in Clark County.

“In the first case, after performing substandard work and severely damaging a home, an unlicensed contractor then billed the homeowner for more than $403,000. The defendant had showed her a contractor’s license that he had ‘borrowed’ after making an agreement with the licensed contractor to bid and perform work on behalf of his license. NSCB investigators tracked down the defendant and he now faces misdemeanor contracting without a license in the Clark County district attorney’s office.

“In the second case, the Contractor’s Board Fraud Unit investigated an abandonment complaint from a senior citizen who had paid an unlicensed contractor $4,000 toward a $7,400 contract for roof repairs. The contractor never performed any work. The investigator was able to track down the contractor, which resulted in the $4,000 being paid back to the homeowner. The unlicensed contractor was cited for unlicensed contracting.”

Phillips specifically pointed out a rise in solar contracting investigations over the past several years.

“Scammers follow supply and demand trends. With more folks interested in solar for their homes, criminals have a greater pool of potential victims to choose from,” Phillips explained.

A contractor’s license can easily be researched on the NSCB website. Check for their “scope of work” (i.e. a licensed electrician may not be licensed for solar contracting), and look for disciplinary results in the search.

More ways to safeguard from contracting scams:

■ Get at least three bids.

■ All details of the project and purchases should be in a contract and any changes made in writing.

■ Never pay cash, if possible, and never let payment get ahead of the work schedule.

■ Until you are satisfied with the job, don’t complete final payment and, if applicable, make sure any lien is released.

NSCB is an outstanding resource for homeowners. Their fraud unit consists of criminal and compliance investigators. If at any point you feel your contractor’s actions are suspicious, contact NSCB.

“Consumers can easily file a complaint on our website: www.nscb.nv.gov or call us at 702-486-1100 and we can go through the process.” Phillips adds, “Combating unlicensed construction activity remains a priority of the board and we work closely with district attorneys across the state to prosecute criminal actions validated during the board’s complaint investigation.”

If ever you feel personally threatened or there’s threat to your property, contact the Boulder City Police.

Norma Vally is a seasoned veteran of home improvement. Follow her on Facebook at Norma Vally “Toolbelt Diva” and visit her at www.NormaVally.com. Email Norma@NormaVally.com.

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