CINCINNATI -- Three days after hiring a contractor who claimed he could fix her tilting retaining wall, 76-year-old Pat Brockhoff was left with nothing but an $850 hole in her bank account and a dirt pile where the wall had once been.
"I heard a crash and the whole wall came down," she said.
After that, the contractor fled.
"I have not been able to get him to come back, and it'll be a month tomorrow," she added. "My radar should've gone off (about him), but it didn't."
Brockhoff isn't the only senior who's been fleeced by a ne'er-do-well posing as a home repair or construction contractor. A serial scammer named James Boswell Sr. made a tidy criminal career out of doing the same thing to Ohio seniors who felt too overwhelmed or intimidated to complain when he asked them for thousands of dollars in exchange for incomplete work.
The Better Business Bureau sees an uptick in these types of scams during the spring and summer, according to BBB community outreach specialist Sandra Guile. That's when homeowners begin to worry about the state of their yards, driveways and homes, so that's when opportunists strike.
Red flags include:
- Unusually high prices
- Asking for money before beginning the job
- Their work not looking the way you expect
Guile said the most frequent targets of these scams are seniors, and the scammers get their money quickly through tactics like demanding money upfront. When a customer pays that fee, the contractor disappears, promising to complete work they seldom start.
"Before anybody steps foot on your property, you want to make sure they're fully licensed and boned," Guile said. She added that some of these scam contractors specifically prey on people affected by storms and natural disasters, so "(y)ou don't ever want to turn your insurance check or insurance claim over to anybody else who claims they can help you out."
And if you end up like Brockhoff, on the hook for work that was botched or never begun, Guile said you should get a good description of the contractor, call law enforcement and reach out to your local government to make sure they can't do the same to anyone else.