Normally, the warnings about home improvement scams go out right after some sort of weather event like destructive storms, flooding, damaging winds or similar occurrences.

I said "normally," but that's not always the case, as we're seeing right here in the Rockford area. We've had some strange and unseasonable weather at times, but very little in the way of storms requiring a massive clean-up.

In spite of that, Dennis Horton, director of the Rockford Regional Office of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) says our local BBB has tracked nearly 90 home improvement scams in the Rockford area in the last month. Dennis also points out that while home improvement scams have been around since homes needed fixing, the last year has produced record numbers of people being scammed.

We've never had (that I know of) a home improvement scammer show up at our front door at home, but a few years back I watched one of our neighbors have it happen to them.

In that case, the home improvement scam was driveway sealcoating. The neighbors who ended up being victims were a very nice senior couple in their mid-80s. One day, a truck with no signage on it (a big warning sign) showed up at their house and offered to sealcoat their driveway at a remarkably low price. The reason for the low price, they were told, is because the guys had finished another job in the neighborhood and had left over sealcoating supplies that they just wanted to get rid of (another big red flag).

My neighbor and his wife paid the men, who then went to work on the driveway. They finished up a bit later, and went on their way. The story should end there, but of course it doesn't. Two days later, it rained and the rain washed all of the "sealcoat" off their driveway, into the gutters, and down the storm sewer. They hadn't used sealcoat at all. It was basically used motor oil mixed with water.

That loss for them wasn't a high-dollar amount, but for folks on a fixed income any loss is significant. Many others have lost thousands and thousands of dollars to home improvement scams.

Here are a few things to do to avoid being a home improvement scam victim, according to the Better Business Bureau:

  • Watch out for “red flags.” Say no to cash-only deals, high-pressure sales tactics, high upfront payments, handshake deals without a contract, and on-site inspections.
  • Always insist on a written contract with the price, materials and timeline. The more detail, the better.
  • Do your homework. Search for the name of the company online along with “Complaint,” “Review” or “Scam” to find different results. Know the law. Work with local businesses that have proper identification, licensing and insurance. Confirm that your vendor will get related permits and make sure you know who is responsible for what.

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