SHELDON—The Sheldon Police Department wants city residents to be aware of home repair scammers who have been known to solicit fraudulent contracting work.
Sheldon police chief Lyle Bolkema said one of his officers saw a vehicle with out-of-state license plates that belongs to someone known for offering repair work to people through deceptive means. He did not want to specify the state the plates belonged to, but confirmed it was not a nearby state.
Bolkema said the vehicle was first spotted in town Tuesday, July 2, but has since moved.
“They’re just completely transient,” Bolkema said. “They go from town to town and, you know, they’ll do work for somebody.”
He said the workers do not usually offer any paperwork or a contract to homeowners, but instead they do a quick repair job, accept a check or cash and then leave town.
“They offer you some sweetheart deal,” Bolkema said, “and they tell you all the nice things that you want to hear, you know, ‘We’ve got a little time we can fit you in and, you know, extra materials, we’ll give you a really good deal.’”
Although the offer may sound good, the work itself is often shoddy, Bolkema said. However, by the time the homeowners see the poor quality of workmanship, the contractor will already be on their way.
Bolkema said the Sheldon police have so far not received any complaints about home repair scams but wanted residents to be on the alert. He encouraged Sheldon residents who need home repair work done to hire a contractor who lives in town.
“You’re far better off dealing with somebody locally because they don’t want to treat you badly because they don’t want to hurt their name,” he said. “And so they’re going to make sure that they treat you right.”
Complaints about home repair contractors are some of the most common consumer complaints the Iowa Attorney General Office receives. In 2018, for instance, the attorney general’s office received 286 such complaints, a 28 percent increase from the previous year, according to the Iowa attorney general’s website.
Given the prevalence of fraudulent contracting work, the website also has advice for homeowners on how to identify and say no to potential scammers.
For instance, homeowners should do their research on any potential contractors before hiring them. If a contractor is driving an unmarked vehicle or has an out-of-state license plate, that is a red flag to be wary. Residents also should check to see if the contractor is registered with the Iowa Division of Labor, which is a requirement for all construction contractors who make more than $2,000 a year. Residents can go to the Iowa Division of Labor website or call 1-800-562-4692 or 515-242-5871.
Before they allow a contractor to begin work, homeowners should get multiple written estimates for the repair work to ensure they are getting a good deal at a fair price. Once they agree on a written contract, they should make sure it details the work the contractor will do, the materials that will be used, the start and completion dates for the project and consequences if the contract fails to meet those dates. Additionally, homeowners should request a copy of the contractor’s liability insurance certificate.
Homeowners also should avoid paying large amounts of money up front for any repair work. If they must pay in advance for the cost of materials, they should make the check out to the materials supplier and the contractor.
After flooding overwhelmed much of western Iowa earlier this spring, concerns about deceptive contracting practices prompted the attorney general to post a consumer alert on the website about Iowa law that exists to protect natural disaster victims from price gouging.
Price gouging is defined as “raising prices unreasonably above the price at which the merchandise or service was sold in the usual course of business immediately prior to the onset of the emergency,” according to the Iowa attorney general’s website. Iowa law prohibits price gouging during a declaration of emergency and the recovery period of six months following the declaration.