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Police Department Offers Advice to Avoid Contractor Scams

Police Department Offers Advice to Avoid Contractor Scams

March 23, 2021

The Cedar Rapids Police Department has taken a number of reports of contractor scams in the past several weeks.  In the past month, investigators have been working on cases involving several thousands of dollars and multiple victims.  There are similarities involved in these cases, including victims that have provided a large sum of money up front for the contracted work and then the work is never completed or barely started.  While many property owners are scheduling derecho storm repairs contract work, other property owners will be hiring contractors for planned home improvement projects.  As this type of work increases, the Police Department is asking community members to take appropriate steps to avoid being scammed. 

The City of Cedar Rapids Building Services Department created a home repair guide for property owners which has important home repair resources.  This information is accessible at www.cityofcr.com/homerepair.   All contractors are required to be licensed and registered through the State of Iowa. If they are licensed in another state, they still need to be licensed in Iowa to do work in Iowa.  To verify your contractor is licensed in the State of Iowa, please call the Building Services Department at (319) 286-5929, Monday – Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  This is a verification service, not a referral service.  The Building Services Department also provides information on required permits, including the process for safe demolition and utility disconnections. This information can be found at www.cityofcr.com/homerepair.   

The Police Department, in cooperation with the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, offers the following recommendations: 

  • Be wary of contractors who show up at your door. If at all possible, deal with an established and reputable local business. Avoid the hard sell.  A reputable company should always be willing to allow a customer time to think about an offer before having to commit to a contract or payment.
  • Check out and interview contractors before you sign a contract or pay any money. Request local references and contact them, and research their ratings with the Better Business Bureau and other sites.
  • Get several written estimates, choose the best, and get a contract in writing.  Be sure to read and understand the contract. Before work begins, agree on a written contract detailing terms including the work to be done, the brand and/or the specifications of the materials to be used, the price, who is responsible for permits, and that all change orders must be in writing. Put start and completion dates in writing, and the remedies if the contractor fails to meet them. For example, the contract could be nullified if the contractor doesn't start on time.
  • Understand your insurance: If you’re filing an insurance claim to cover the costs of damages, negotiate the details with your insurance company directly and not through a contractor. Make sure your insurance provider will cover the cost of repairs before you sign a contract.
  • Explore financing options: It’s usually safer and a better deal to obtain financing through your local bank or credit union, rather than a contractor.
  • Know your right to cancel: If you sign a contract somewhere other than the contractor's regular place of business, such as at your home, you have three business days to cancel the contract without penalty.
  • Avoid paying large sums or the entire job up front.  If you need to make a partial advance payment for materials, make your check out to the supplier and the contractor. Insist on a "mechanic's lien waiver" in case the contractor fails to pay others for materials or labor.
  • Write down a license plate number and vehicle description, or take a picture of the vehicle and plate.  Keep this for your records. 

To report a dishonest contractor, please contact the Iowa Attorney General’s Office at 1-888-777-4590 or 1-515-281-5926, or www.iowaattorneygeneral.gov.



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