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Springtime attracts ‘splash-and-dash’ scams

Lipstick on a pig is still a pig. Your #WiseChoices and the Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance help you avoid unlicensed and unscrupulous lawn care services and contractors.

The hogs are out in force. I’m not talking about my daughter’s beloved Razorbacks, either.

I’m talking about fly-by-night home improvement contractors and lawn care services. Spring’s when they show up in their unmarked vehicles — some with out-of-state license plates — and start knocking door-to-door (which you should always refuse, period!).

They are the pigs in the trough of what the Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance (TDCI) calls ‘splash-and-dash’ scams.

“These scammers use high-pressure sales tactics to trick homeowners into paying big bucks for shoddy workmanship, and then they vanish leaving a mess in their wake,” said TDCI Communications Director Kevin Walters.

Wade Stewart, sales representative for All-State Pest And Lawn, your #WiseChoice for pest and lawn services, said consumers must do their homework when hiring a reputable lawn care service or home improvement contractor. “The state requires all spray companies to have a charter with the state, insurance, bond and a licensed operator,” Stewart said. “Landscapers cannot put a plant in the ground nor can spray guys fertilize your lawns without a licensed operator. The state also requires a license for any person or business as a landscaper. I see old pick-up trucks all the time with little to no signage carrying loads of mulch or spray tanks. Please beware!”

“A home improvement contractor should always be licensed and fully insured,” said Tracy Hill, co-owner and chief interior designer of your #WiseChoice for interior design and general contracting, Interior Transformations/HillCo Construction. “They should be able to provide written and verbal references and have good standing with the Better Business Bureau and social media.”

Tennessee contractors and lawn care licenses can be researched here. Consumers can check out Mississippi and Arkansas professional licenses by Googling those states’ contractors board sites or by clicking on the website of the specific state agency which regulates the service they need (insurance, agriculture, pest control, etc.).

TDCI recommended looking out for these red flags:

  • Door-to-door solicitations (do NOT answer a knock from someone you do not recognize!)
  • Someone who offers a service for a short time only, making the consumer feel rushed
  • Unmarked trucks or vans
  • Refusal to offer a binding, written contract that clearly delineates terms and conditions
  • Pressure to pay cash only, making it more difficult to trace or cancel the purchase
  • Pressure to pay for more than a third of the total cost upfront

Tennessee law only allows legitimate, licensed contractors to demand a third of the cost upfront, nothing more.

“The biggest red flag is a pushy contractor that asks for a large down payment,” Hill said. “Signed contracts are also a must.”

Stewart said, “If you’re still unsure, I recommend:

  1. Check the company’s business license with your local county or city business license division and with the local Chamber of Commerce.
  2. Ask the seller for references and/or examples of their work. If they provide pictures, a quick Google image search may reveal the fraud as many people will print pictures from the internet.
  3. Make them provide their insurance information and verify it before any work is considered.
  4. Check the Better Business Bureau for status, current and past complaints.
  5. Check social media. Every municipality has a local forum. There are a lot of referrals and un-biased opinions you can sort through. You may always ask the forums if anyone has had dealings with them.

“Also, get multiple estimates,” continued Stewart. “Like Sesame Street put into all of our minds, ‘Which one of these is not like the other?’ Compare the companies’ proposals and estimates for continuity. In the end, due diligence will prevail.”

TDCI assembled excellent brochures to help you defend yourself against spring ‘splash-and-dash’ scams. This one is for general contractors and home improvement/remodeling. This one will help you identify all of those flighty door-to-door scams.

Copyright 2018 Wise Choices TM. All rights reserved.