published Friday, June 28th, 2013

Biz Bulletin: What to look for when offers knock on the door

Jim Winsett

Q: I have seen a good amount of activity lately in the way of contractors going door to door in my neighborhood, and some of their offerings sound too good to be true. Does the BBB have any tips on how to deal with door-to-door contractors?

A: During the summer months the Better Business Bureau usually finds an uptick of door-to-door sales going on in neighborhoods, and cautions consumers to beware of a wide array of warm weather scams in their neighborhoods.

Many door-to-door sales people will pitch unwanted and often fraudulent solicitations for a variety of products and services. They are run by con artists who move from town to town and state to state, performing poor work, or simply collecting deposits and leaving behind a trail of unhappy consumers. Some popular door-to-door schemes include:

• Asphalt pavers: They offer cut-rate paving services, claiming they have material left over from another job in the neighborhood. Their work and materials are often substandard and the quality of work is poor.

• Home improvement contractors: Many door-to-door contractors are unlicensed, uninsured and unqualified to do the work they offer.

• Heating, roofing and chimney contractors: They may make false claims that major repairs are necessary or that heating equipment needs replacement.

• Landscapers and cleanup crews: Scammers knock on doors and send out fliers at this time of year, offering yard maintenance and cleanup services. They may show up once or twice, or simply take a deposit and never return to do the work.

• Magazine sellers: Students are often unaware they are being duped into selling magazine subscriptions for disreputable operators. In many cases wrong magazines arrive or consumers are overcharged. In other situations, the magazine vendors' boss is simply collecting credit card information for the purpose of committing fraud.

• Alarm systems: BBBs across the country receive complaints about people selling alarm systems and failing to divulge terms of the contract for alarm system monitoring.

Most contractors are legitimate. Unfortunately, their reputation can be tarnished by unscrupulous operators who cheat consumers. The good news is that consumers are more than ever researching companies, because of concerns about scams, reliability and quality of work.

Better Business Bureau offers six tips to get the work done properly, and protect against fraudulent operators.

1. Do not make decisions at your front door. If your property requires maintenance or remodeling, BBB recommends researching prospective contractors and sellers at www.bbb.org, to see what other consumers' experiences have been like. Also, do not invite unsolicited salespeople into your home.

2. Ask for identification and information. If someone is selling door to door, request they provide you with proper identification and leave you with material to read about their products and services. Legitimate sellers and contractors will give you the time you need to research their reputation and reliability.

3. Watch out for high pressure sales tactics. Avoid sellers who encourage you to sign a contract or put down a deposit right away, claiming that they will offer a special rate, but only if you act immediately.

4. Check all contractors' credentials. Make sure they provide proof of required insurance coverage, licensing and proof of registration. Consumers may verify licenses through the Department of Commerce and Insurance in the state of Tennessee: http://verify.tn.gov/, and for Georgia check the Secretary of State website: www.sos.ga.gov/myverification/Search.aspx.

5. Get it all in writing. A contract should contain a description of the project, labor and materials to be used, a start and completion date and payment schedule. Make sure contracts contain any verbal promises in writing. Never pay in advance more than one-third of the contract value.

6. Remember your rights. The Federal Trade Commission's "Cooling-Off Rule" gives you three days to cancel purchases over $25 made at your home or other location that is not the seller's permanent place of business.

Get answers to your questions each Friday from Jim Winsett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Inc., which serves Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. Submit questions to his attention by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN, 37401-1447, or by e-mailing him at dflessner@ timesfreepress.com.

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