Fifty Shades of Consumer Fraud

Now that I have your attention, the first thing you need to know is that there is nothing sexy about consumer fraud. The second thing you need to know is that there are far more than fifty types of consumer fraud. It extends to a wide variety of situations and is intended to protect the consumer in situations as diverse as auto repairs, home improvement and real estate sale and leasing. However, due to constraints of time and space, I will only address today some of the steps to take to protect yourself from consumer fraud when entering into a contract with home improvement contractors.

FraudAlthough many home fraudulent deeds and acts are committed by home improvement contractors during times of extreme loss or devastation acts of consumer fraud are not limited to cataclysmic events such as hurricane Sandy. Nor are they committed only by giant companies. Consumers are the victims of consumer fraud during good times and bad and are victimized by small and large companies alike.

A typical ploy used by scam artists is to knock on someone’s door and say, “We’re in the area working down the block. Can we do this work for you?” While, at first, this may appear to be a godsend to those who need work done on their home, it is more likely than not the result of someone seeking to take advantage of a bad situation. As the old saying goes, “If it’s too good to be true, it’s probably not.”

The person who shows up at your home unsolicited is frequently someone seeking to take advantage of you or your family. Don’t agree to pay money to such a person unless you have done your research. That research should include contacting the Division of Consumer Affairs to determine if that individual is properly registered. That registration number should be on their vehicle and on any correspondence that they provide you.

Additionally and foremost, before any work is performed: GET IT IN WRITING

The Law of New Jersey requires that home improvement contracts that exceed $500.00, and any changes to those contracts, be in writing. Under the Law, home improvement contracts that exceed $500.00 must:

Be signed by all parties;

The contract should accurately set forth in legible form and in understandable language all terms and conditions of the contract;

The legal name and business address of the contractor, including the legal name and business address of the sales representative or agent who solicited or negotiated the contract, should be set forth;

The description of the work to be done, and principal products and materials to be used or installed in performance of the contract should be included;

The total price or other consideration to be paid by the buyer, including finance charges, should be included;

The dates or time period on or which the work is to begin and to be completed by the contractor;

A copy of the Certificate of Commercial General Liability Insurance required of a contractor should be provided;

This is by no means an exhaustive list of all those things one should consider when reviewing the Proposal and Contract of the home improvement contractor. Many unscrupulous individuals have found ways of skirting the law and persuading the unsuspecting consumer that time will not allow them to prepare a contract or to even address the need for add-ons or change orders in writing. Although your first instinct may be to act quickly in an effort to resolve your problems and issues as swiftly as possible, but remember that the few extra minutes to put information in writing can protect both you and the contractor. If the details of the deal are written down, neither side can easily claim something else was intended. Additionally, remember that most contractors keep copies of change orders and blank contracts in their vehicles. Many have at their disposal a laptop computer upon which they can make changes to a contract or additions to an agreement in only a few minutes. Those few minutes can be critical, preventing a possible breach of contract by a contractor or reduce the likelihood of consumer fraud.

Make sure it is in writing. Make sure it is signed by all parties involved, and before signing the contract, read it thoroughly. Ask any and all questions you can think of, and if you do not get the right answer or appropriate response, do not execute the contract, and do not proceed. Time may be money, but the failure to put an agreement with the home improvement contractor in writing can be devastating and costly, especially to the consumer. In less time that it has taken you to read this article, you can take steps which can greatly protect you, your family and property from consumer fraud or unscrupulous contractors.