DA office warns homeowners about contractor fraud
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) – As part of the 4th District Attorney’s Office’s “Financial Friday” initiative, prosecutors want to make sure the community doesn’t fall for contractor scams.
Senior Assistant District Attorney Rachael Powell said it can be difficult to prosecute this type of crime.
“There is no charge for contractor fraud,” she said. “It is not a crime in itself. The charge they would be charged with is theft.
In order to prosecute this charge, Powell said you must prove that a suspect is taking something of value – like money or supplies – with the intention of “permanently depriving himself”.
“This is the part where there is a bit of a gray area between the civilian and the criminal,” Powell said.
In order to prevent people from falling victim to this type of fraud, Powell provided six things everyone should do if they are considering hiring a contractor to work on their home, lawn, or business.
1. Ask for recent references
“The more personal contact you can have, direct contact with that reference, the better because they can tell you if the job was completed on time, by their standards, all the things you would like to know before closing. a contract with that person, ”Powell said.
If someone tells you that they have no references, that’s a red flag.
2. Sign a contract
“So that means not an email exchange, not an SMS exchange, certainly not just a handshake or a phone call,” Powell said. “This is a written contract that is dated by you, signed by you, dated by the contractor and signed by the contractor. “
In that contract, Powell said you have to describe everything you pay for, including labor and supplies.
“Are you able to use the toilet that you currently have in your bathroom, or are you asking them to buy one and charge you for it?” And that’s what’s included in your contract, ”she said.
Anything you can get in writing will only help if something is wrong.
“In that list or that contract, have as many adjectives as possible,” said Powell. “So a granite countertop, rather than a simple counter. Any descriptors that let you know that you have a particular quality preference or requirement for your home or garden that may be unspoken or that would be unspoken if it weren’t in the written contract.
Even if you know the person who works for you, Powell said you should still put it in writing.
3. Pay only half up front
In most cases, the DA’s office ends up suing, Powell said the victim usually pays the full amount at the start of the project.
“I wouldn’t say it’s normal business practice,” she said. “We have seen in cases that are not criminal, in people who run their businesses well, that they ask about half upfront.”
4. Have a fixed schedule
Before you get down to business, make sure you and your contractor are on the same page.
“Have them stretch out when they think the bathroom will be finished, the landscaping will be done, the roof will be finished,” Powell said. “It just allows you to hold them a little more accountable for the progress of the job.”
If supplies are delayed and the schedule is pushed back, be sure to update the schedule.
5. Contact the contractor first
If you start to get mad at your contractor, Powell said to address the issue with the person before going to someone else.
“Open that line of communication,” she said. “I think if there are allegations of criminal activity or legal action – some sort of civil suit – it usually creates a communication breakdown.”
6. Know how to reach your contractor
In order to keep the line of communication open, make sure you have good contact information for your contractor and any subcontractors working on your project.
“The contractor should also be able to contact the owner if there are any questions while the work is in progress,” said Powell.
Where possible, Powell recommended communicating via email or text, so everything is written down.
“People remember phone conversations differently,” she said. “If you have a text message, you can have some documentation of the changes made or an explanation of things. “
Powell said you should also keep track if your contractor stops responding to you.
“Things like missed calls, sent text messages, sent emails are just records and written documentation that you can use later,” she said. “For example, if you keep calling, texting, and emailing this entrepreneur, and you keep not hearing from them, I’m sure you can see it’s growing. plus proof of this intention to permanently deprive. “
Powell said if you have given money to a contractor and the work is not being done according to the contract, this is when you should contact the police.
If you are not comfortable calling the police and prefer to remain anonymous, you can always call Pikes Peak Crime Stoppers at 719-634-STOP.
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