How to avoid home repair fraud

Members of five families are behind fraudulent home improvement schemes that target seniors in Ontario and western Canada, according to the Ontario Provincial Police.Since 1989, “this crew alone has been responsible for more than 140 known occurrences in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario,” for about $250,000 in fraudulent home improvements, according to OPP Detective Staff Sergeant Phil Walsh.

The OPP Anti-Rackets Section is investigating 57 incidents, but is finding it a challenge to successfully build a prosecution for a variety of reasons. Walsh says knowing how home improvement fraud works could help prevent even more instances.

Home fraud tip-offs
Walsh has asked CARP, Canada’s advocacy organization for the 50plus, to help in publicising a fraud alert.

Signs of potential home improvement fraud:

  • Home repair contractors call or visit a targeted home, uninvited.
  • Repairs commonly offered are to driveway sealing, roofing, caulking and painting.
  • They convince seniors repairs are necessary, sometimes through intimidation.
  • They demand payment by cheque.&lt/l>

Payment demands excessive
Walsh says sometimes, the amount demanded for the work is “extremely excessive, or, in other cases, the suspects altered the cheque to a higher amount” before depositing it.

“And in other cases, the suspects claimed the cheque was not in order, pretended to destroy it and then convinced the victim to prepare a second cheque. Both cheques were then cashed.”

Walsh outlines some common features in the fraud reports made to police.

  • Monday to Wednesday were peak times for incidents.
  • May, July and November were peak months, July highest.

Police are investigating incidents going back to 1989, with the highest numbers occurring in the years 1997 to 1999.

Next page: Protection tips

Protection tips
At a recent CARP sponsored fraud prevention seminar in Toronto, OPP Detective Staff Sergeant Barry Elliott said a senior woman is the most desired target for home improvement fraud.His advice for getting home repairs:

  • Be sure to get a second estimate.
  • Check out offers with family, friends and neighbours. 
  • Make notes about any conversations you have with contractors. Include the time, date and subject.
  • Take your time. Never sign on the spot.
  • Never give large sums of money to anyone before the work is completed.
  • Make sure you are satisfied with the job done before payment.
  • Remember, for any contract over $50, you have up to 10 days to cancel.

Prosecution difficult
Walsh says many victims of home improvement fraud are reluctant to testify or slow to report incidents to the police.

Many also have difficulty identifying the culprits. And he also says police resources are an issue, with surveillance and follow-up investigation.

He encourages seniors to be pro active if they suspect fraud.

“They should direct the suspects to leave their property and alert the police.”