Home improvement season brings fraud

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COLUMBIA - Home improvement and construction fraud peaks during the warm spring and summer months when homeowners are looking to build or renovate.

Home improvement or construction fraud is when someone offers to build or renovate something, takes money upfront, and never begins or completes the job. The Better Business Bureau said home improvement scams are the second highest type of fraud consumers complain about.

"It is very easy to execute construction fraud because really all you have to do is throw on a tool belt, go knock on a bunch of doors, and if you offer your services, fraudulent or real, to enough people, then enough of them are going to say yes," said Sean Spence, the Mid-Missouri Regional Director for the Better Business Bureau. 

Jerry Faigle III has been landscaping in Columbia for the past year and has done small home improvement jobs in the past. He said people who are fraudulent make hard manual labor workers look bad.

"They scare people away from the small handyman-type businesses toward large corporations," Faigle said. "Smaller businesses need as much business as they can get."

Spence said the only way to stop home improvement scams is for people to be skeptical. 

"If someone comes knocking on your door, is offering you a service and is asking for your money upfront, be cautious," Spence said. "If it looks too good to be true, it probably is." 

The Mid-Missouri Better Business Bureau has a scam tracker on its website for consumers to look at before they choose a business to do home improvement of any kind. The bureau said anyone who is worried about fraud should check to see if the business is accredited.

If the consumer is still worried about a scam or has already lost money to the fraudulent business, the Better Business Bureau suggested that person should file a complaint against the company. Spence said if enough complaints are filed, the Better Business Bureau looks into the company or passes the complaints onto local law enforcement. 

"We are able to share those details with law enforcement at all levels and hopefully play a pretty significant role in stopping those scams," Spence said. "We do that pretty much on a weekly basis."

Faigle said he hopes people will be cautious about potential scams but continue to be willing to hire a smaller company for home improvement jobs. 

"Not all of us are like that," he said. "Some of us actually care about getting the job done."

The Better Business Bureau suggested people should often check its local website's complaints page to see if someone they want to hire has had any recent complaints filed against them.