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CONSUMER ALERT

Home-improvement scams proliferate in spring

What do you think of when you hear the word “spring?’’ Crocuses sprouting? Buds on trees? Warming temperatures?

How about home-improvement scams?

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Spring was but a few days old when the Worcester Police Department issued a scam alert about pavers going door to door with a story about having leftover asphalt so they could fill your driveway potholes - cheap. Then, surprise, they tell you that you owe them a lot more money. They tend to target seniors, who are often more likely to succumb to face-to-face pressure.

And don’t think only about pavers. They could just as easily have been sketchy roofers or shady jacks of some other trade.

To avoid a scam contractor, there are a few simple steps to take. The best place to start is the state Department of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation list of contractor registrations (www.mass.gov/ocabr/consumer/home-improvement-contract). To get the protections provided by law, be sure the contractor you want to use is on that list.

Home-improvement contractors are required to register with the state. They should apply for and obtain (rather than you doing it) a municipal permit for any job that requires one. Permitting is another step that gives the consumer some oversight - making both a record of the work and bringing an inspector to check that it’s done according to code.

The state does not require contractors to have liability insurance, so it’s on you to be sure they’re covered on the job. Be sure to ask for a copy of the cover sheet of their policy. Evaluate who you’re planning to hire. Ask around for recommendations and check with the Better Business Bureau.

Invite at least three contractors to evaluate the job and provide estimates in writing. Specifics should be in writing (materials, dates, and the like) with payment at various stages of completion and no more than one-third paid upfront. Pay with a credit card or by check so you have a written record of your payments.

Mitch Lipka has been helping consumers out of jams for the past two decades. He lives in Worcester and also writes the Consumer Alert blog on Boston.com. Mitch can be reached at ConsumerNews@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @mitchlipka.
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