COLORADO — This time of year our investigative unit and some state prosecutors say they get a long list of complaints from consumers who say they were ripped-off by a contractor who took money, but didn’t deliver on that home improvement project.
One district attorney’s office in Colorado recently sent out an advisoryabout contractor fraud and is focused on cracking down on bad contractors.
Making poor decisions when hiring a contractor can lead to huge financial losses. That’s what prosecutors at Colorado’s 18th Judicial District are concerned about.
Harvard research shows year after year for the last decade people have continued to spend more money on home improvement projects, but in some cases consumers find the person they hired for the job takes money and doesn’t follow through.
Director of Consumer Fraud Protection for the 18th Judicial District Jamie Sorrells sees these cases all the time and for consumers it’s not always a simple process trying to hold contractors accountable.
”They will go and file a complaint, or try to. Often what the response is, is that this is a civil matter. Well, when it comes to contractor fraud it can be civil, often it is, but it can also be criminal,” said Sorrells.
If work isn’t completed or done up to your standards it’s frustrating, but might not be enough to launch a law enforcement investigation.
”Sometimes it’s really bad, poor construction… poor work is not necessarily a crime,” said Sorrells.
If you pay a contractor up-front, investigators say what happens next
often determines if law enforcement will take on the case.
”No material is ever purchased, or shows up and there’s no service done whatsoever and you never hear from that individual again, or maybe there are a few conversations, but still no service, no material, well that’s theft.”
Sorrells says these are the cases prosecutors are prioritizing and are looking to bring charges against bad contractors, but before a contractor is even hired fraud experts say it’s important for consumers to get multiple bids and to be critical of red flags.
”Some flags that you might see is a company that is relatively new. What happens is when a contractor is involved in fraud, if they get closed down they’ll simply open up a new LLC,” said “Dr. Fraud” J. Michael Skiba of Colorado State University Global.
Every year consumers who fail to do this type of research often end up in bad situations.
”They ask for full payment and a lot of times what’s going to happen is the unscrupulous contractor is going to do a couple quick things for you, get you confident and then they are going to leave and open up shop somewhere else after you’ve already cashed your check,” said Skiba.
The experts say working with a legal expert before signing a deal with a contractor offers an important layer of protection right off the bat.