Summer projects increase likelihood of scams

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COLUMBIA- As the weather continues to get warmer, many residents take advantage of the summer days to get housework done.

However, simple home improvement projects could be risky this time of year. 

"This is the time, spring and summer, where we see handymen scams coming around due to power washing, cleaning and staining decks, roofing and asphalting driveways because the good weather has happened," said Latisha Stroer, the Public Information Officer of the Columbia Police Department.

Columbia PD warned citizens about the potential for scams with a notification in this month's city newsletter after receiving numerous complaints last year.

Mike Harrison, the regional director of the Mid-Missouri Better Business Bureau said the scam is not new and can really hurt the residents. From March to October last year, Harrison said the BBB received 11 complaints, many coming from the same company. 

"We had a situation last Fall where a company was going in, they were working with consumers, getting deposits from them, but they would not come back and complete the work," Harrison said. "And unfortunately, this particular company closed up shop, they left town and people were unable to get their money back unless they went to small claims court."

The recent storms that hit Mid-Missouri may only make matters worse this summer.

"With the storms that we saw last week, you get a lot of those fly-by-night companies where, they'll come in, they'll quote you a price to do the work. Sometimes they'll do the work, sometimes they'll take your money and they'll leave and they won't do the work," Harrison said.

The Missouri Attorney General recently took action against 16 home-repair businesses for consumer fraud. According to the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division, consumers have filed 334 complaints against home-repair businesses statewide this year.  

There are several ways consumers can protect themselves from potential scams. Harrison suggested getting a written contract with any company or contractor hired and to ask about the company's insurance in case there is an accident on the property.

He also advises consumers to use the rule of thirds. This means the customer pays one-third of the total cost of the project upfront. In the middle of the project, the customer should pay another third if they like the progress. The customer should pay the remaining money once the project is complete. This rule, Harrison said, protects the customer by not making them pay the full cost upfront.

Stroer suggests customers get referrals and estimates from other people before hiring anyone and to make sure they have a city of Columbia business license.

Harrison said the risk is always there, but research is key in avoiding a scam.

"As long as you do your homework, you should be ok."

Consumers can find licensed contractors and handymen through the Better Business Bureau website.