Seniors: Beware of contractor fraud

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Seniors: Beware of contractor fraud
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By Sang Pak

Many Alexandria residents are completing renovations and repairs to their houses due to the extra time they are spending at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. While that presents the opportunity to improve your home, it also opens up the possibility of construction fraud schemes.

The following story is an example of one construction fraud incident that resulted in an arrest of a perpetrator. The majority of complaints are not considered a criminal matter and end up as a civil matter between the homeowner and the contractor.

Mr. Anderson, a retired 75-year-old city resident who lives alone, was looking to complete a bathroom renovation in the basement of his house for his grandson to move into the home during the pandemic. Mr. Anderson searched for a local contractor on Craigslist and found one, a contractor named “Bob” based out of Maryland.

After Mr. Anderson contacted Bob for an estimate, Bob responded to the home, assessed the project and provided a written estimate of the project – about $10,000, with a $3,000 down payment to secure the project. Bob indicated that he is an experienced contractor and has been working in the field for many years. Mr. Anderson previously had work done on the house by other contractors and believed that Bob was offering a very good price for the project. Mr. Anderson provided Bob with a down payment check of $3,000 and Bob promised to start construction in two weeks.

Two weeks went by and Bob failed to start the construction project. Mr. Anderson called Bob to see what was causing the delay. Bob indicated that he was currently trying to finish another project and promised to start the project in another two weeks. Two more weeks went by and Bob still failed to start the project. Mr. Anderson called Bob again.

This time, Bob stated that one of his workers contracted COVID-19, causing the delay. Mr. Anderson decided to cancel the contract and demanded a refund of the down payment money. Bob told Mr. Anderson that he had used the down payment to purchase tools and pay his workers for other jobs. Bob stated that he did not have the money to make repayment and promised to pay at a later time.

Mr. Anderson contacted the Alexandria Police Department, citing that he was a victim of construction fraud. Under the Virginia Criminal statute, contractors are required to make full repayment upon request for any “Advance Payment for Promised Construction,” according to VA Code Section 18.2-200.1. Alexandria police investigated the situation and Bob was later arrested after he failed to fully refund the down payment money 15 days after receiving a certified demand letter from Mr. Anderson.

The police investigation also also revealed that Bob had an extensive criminal history, including prior arrests for similar incidents. The company name listed on the contract was not registered with VA State Corporation Committee. In addition, Bob did not have a contractor’s license in the DMV. Bob used a fake company name that was very similar to an actual existing local contracting business to mislead homeowners researching contractors.

To avoid such incidents and other construction related problems, make sure you obtain at least two estimates; check the contractor licensing through the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation (http://www.dpor.virginia.gov) and VA SCC (https://www.scc. virginia.gov); and check with the Better Business Bureau (https://www.bbb.org) and online information to verify the contractor or company.

Financial exploitation incidents may be reported to Adult Protective Services through the Division of Aging and Adult Services. Report incidents of financial exploitation of an adult to APS at 703-746-5778 Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. or after hours at 888-832-3858. For more information visit www.alexandriava.gov/Aging.

The writer is a detective in the Alexandria Police Department’s financial crimes division.

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