Janesville66.7°

Flood victims hope to avoid crooked contractors

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Stacy Vogel
August 25, 2008
— Caroline Robb is a tough shopper.

So when her house incurred tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of damage in this summer’s floods, she did her homework.


She asked family and close friends to help her do as much of the repairs as possible.


When it came to hiring professionals and buying materials, she shopped around.


Yet even Robb had trouble knowing whom to trust.


“They’re ready to pounce and take advantage of you,” Robb said.


“They” are unscrupulous contractors, and, unfortunately, they come out of the woodwork in summer, especially in times of trouble, said Glen Loyd, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.


“I think it’s fair to say that when there are people who are having problems, these questionable contractors are there,” Loyd said.


Even during a normal summer, questionable contractors often run scams by offering to resurface driveways or perform other services, he said. Since the flooding, contractors have swarmed the Wisconsin Dells area looking for customers, he said.


It appears many have shown up in Rock County, too.


Several contractors have appeared uninvited at Robb’s door on South River Road offering their services—often at inflated prices, she said.


“I had a guy come up to my house that was drunk” offering to do floor work, she said. “He came up with an extraordinary price.”


Other contractors have quoted material costs much higher than what Robb found when she checked herself, she said.


Some contractors will show up at your door and quote a low price, then raise it later, Loyd said.


“After they’re done, they say, ‘Well, the materials are more than we thought, so it’s going to be a lot more,’” Loyd said. “At first they were friendly, but now they’re menacing, and they want to escort you down to the bank to get that money. It’s a form of intimidation.”


Robb was lucky, she said. She found a company she trusts to raise her home, and hired the husband of a co-worker, Todd Kloskey of J.C. Ewert & Sons, to perform foundation work.


Still, Robb got quotes from other companies before hiring Kloskey, she said.


Robb did exactly right, Loyd said. He recommends getting at least three quotes before hiring a contractor and using a local contractor whenever possible.


And if you are taken in by a scam, don’t be embarrassed about it, Loyd said. Often, if you call the police, the contractor will refund your money to avoid trouble.


“Don’t ever be embarrassed that you fell for something like that,” he said. “It is hard to figure out.”


AVOIDING PROBLEMS

Glen Loyd of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection offers these tips for avoiding unscrupulous contractors:


-- Always find out where the contractor is from. Never hire someone who knocks on your door offering services.


-- Always get at least three estimates.


-- Use a local contractor whenever possible.


-- Call the consumer protection hotline at 1-800-422-7128 to find out if the state has had any dealings with the contractor.


-- If you fall victim to a scam, don’t be embarrassed. Call the police right away. Often, a dishonest contractor will refund your money rather than tangle with authorities.



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