With the recent surge in online coupons offered on social media sites such as Groupon, Living Social, Valpak, Facebook and Twitter, the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection reminds people who receive electronic offers for home improvement to check out contractors carefully before agreeing to any work.
“Many sites offer daily discounts on a variety of home services, such as chimney cleaning and driveway sealing,” Consumer Protection Commissioner William Rubenstein said. “Scammers are also using these sites to lure unsuspecting homeowners into buying services they don’t need, so be sure to verify that contractors you contact are registered to do work in Connecticut.”
To verify a contractor’s registration, go online and “lookup a license” at https://www.elicense.ct.gov/ or call 1-800-842-2649.
A scam situation might begin with a consumer redeeming an online coupon for a low-cost chimney inspection or sweeping. When workers arrive for the job, they claim to find problems that urgently require repair. Workers may pressure the homeowner, sometimes with scare tactics, to hire them to make the repairs immediately. Workers who get the consumer to pay up may do inferior or unnecessary work, or no work at all.
“A shoddy or unneeded repair is a bad deal at any price, so make sure the “discount” is really going to save you money, not cost you,” Rubenstein said. He noted that in recent years, fraudulent or shoddy chimney services have been reported to the Department more than any other home improvement service.
“Online advertising could worsen the problem,” Rubenstein said. “While consumers are usually careful about shopping online, it’s wise to proceed with an even higher level of caution when giving contractors access to your home. You might actually save money and worry by working with contractors whose competence you’ve confirmed with friends, relatives and others whom you trust.”
Here are 12 tips to help make the most of home improvement coupon offers.
1. Ignore urgent, hard-sell, time limited offers. Take the time to know who you're dealing with.
2. Deal with well-known companies as much as you can. If you’re trying out a company you are unfamiliar with, confirm that the company has a physical address and phone number.
3. Even on coupon offers, get to know the contractor before you hire him or her. Ask for references from former customers and contact them.
4. Know what you're buying. Read the seller's description of the product and the fine print.
5. Confirm that the contractor is registered in Connecticut. Go to https://www.elicense.ct.gov/ or call 1-800-842-2649.
6. Get more than one estimate for the job; don’t assume that an extremely low bid is a bargain.
7. Carefully read and print the terms and conditions. Also print other records of your online transactions, including all emails to and from the seller.
8. Pay by credit card if possible, to protect you if something goes wrong. Under federal law, you can dispute charges under certain circumstances and withhold payment temporarily while the creditor is investigating. Using cash, debit card, personal check, cashier's check, or money orders do not offer the same protection, so use them only if you really know and trust the contractor.
9. Make sure you understand your contract. If anything is unclear, ask for advice or do some further research.
10. Home improvement contracts must include a three day notice of cancellation that allows consumers 72 hours to change their mind. It must also include clear instructions on how a consumer is to cancel the contract, along with a valid phone number, fax number and mailing address.
11. Check with your local building department to verify if permits are required for the work being proposed and done. A building permit ensures that the work performed is done to code and is safe.
12. Make sure the contractor carries liability and worker’s compensation insurance for any damages caused by the contractor or their subcontractors to your property or neighbors’ properties.