Friday, May 4, 2012

Howard County: With Warmer Weather Here, Ulman Warns Residents to Watch Out for Driveway Paving Scams

News Release from the Howard County Government:

ELLICOTT CITY, MD – Howard County Executive Ken Ulman warns Howard County residents to be alert for solicitors coming door-to-door and offering to repair driveways or to perform other home improvement or handyman services.  

“The County’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Police Department have recently received reports of unlicensed contractors selling driveway paving services without having the proper State or County licenses,” said County Executive Ulman.  “By hiring unlicensed contractors, especially those who offer their services door-to-door, residents take a huge risk of receiving inferior repairs, paying higher prices or losing their money entirely.”

“County residents have reported that contractors start by quoting them a low estimate for the work but later demand a higher price claiming that the job was bigger than anticipated,” said Rebecca Bowman, Administrator of the Office of Consumer Affairs.  “Once the work has been completed, residents often feel that there is no alternative but to pay the higher price, or may even be concerned about retribution by the contractor.”

Before hiring or paying anyone to perform home repairs, such as paving or gutter repair, homeowners should contact the Maryland Home Improvement Commission (MHIC) to check the license status of the individual and company.  To verify a home improvement contractor’s license, consumers can call the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing at 410-230-6309 or visit them online at www.dllr.maryland.gov/license/.  Companies and individuals who perform tree trimming or removal services need to be licensed by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR); to verify their license, call 410-260-3233 or visit DNR’s website at www.dnr.state.md.us/forests/tree_expert_search.asp.

In addition, anyone offering goods or services door-to-door in Howard County must have a Solicitor’s Permit issued by the Office of Consumer Affairs.  If approached, consumers should always ask to see the solicitor’s registration card and refuse to do business with anyone who does not have one.  Howard County consumers can verify whether door-to-door solicitors are properly licensed and/or report unlicensed solicitors to the Office by calling 410-313-6420 or e-mailing consumer@howardcountymd.gov.
  
Door-to-door sales people succeed in separating consumers from their money as they give consumers little time to consider the offer.  They also seldom offer written contracts and, when a consumer does request a contract, the sales person may either produce a form contract or write one up by hand on the spot.  When either of these situations occurs, the contact information listed for the sales person on the contract is usually bogus and the terms and conditions are usually vague.  Even if the terms of the agreement are specific, they are seldom met.


“These guarantees are worthless since these con artists do not hang around to hear or respond to consumer complaints,” said Bowman.  “Even worse, door-to-door sales people have also been known to engage in home burglary while the repair scam is in progress.”

Senior citizens are often targeted by door-to-door sales people, but nevertheless, all consumers should be wary of these home repair offers.  “My best advice is to decline all offers from door-to-door sales people, and report the solicitation immediately to the Office of Consumer Affairs,” added Bowman.

Consumers should also remember the following if they find a home-improvement contractor or handyman at their door:
• In Maryland, home improvement contractors may not require you to pay more than one-third of the contract price up front.  Do not be persuaded by hard luck stories.
• While all door-to-door solicitors are required to give you a 3-day right to cancel your contract in writing, remember that you won’t be able to exercise that right if you (or local or state authorities) cannot find the contractor.  Once you pay your money, it may be impossible to get it back.
• If you ever feel threatened or intimidated by door-to-door solicitors, call the police non-emergency phone number,
410-313-2200, immediately.

For more information and/or to report a potential scam, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs at 410-313-6420.