Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Scam Outs

As the hours tick away towards the holiday weekend, I find myself taking a look more and more at reports of contracting scams, which is upsetting to say the least. There is, I suppose, a certain glee in knowing that I take pride in my work and customer service, as do a great deal of the NYC plumbers I work with, in contrast but that’s mostly pride and doesn’t really help the hundreds of reports from victims of contractor malfeasance that come in daily. During the holidays, when you’ve just spent a large portion of your paycheck on Batman: Arkham City and that Justin Bieber concert movie (on blu-ray, no less), it’s doubly disappointing.

An article published yesterday in the Washington Post spurred my interest in these matters. A technology officer out of Great Falls, along with some other swindlers, decided to bilk the Army Corps. of Engineers out of nearly $20 million while working for Nova Datacom. The scam involves kickbacks (never thought I’d get to use that word), conspiracy and a web of bribes reaching back to 2007. It’s a quagmire, to put it politely, but the truth is that I react far more strongly to local, smaller-scale scams, seeing as it tarnishes the name of all service providers, including and maybe especially NYC handymen.

One of the more perplexing reports I read was from a customer in Buffalo, complaining about a home improvement contractor who was working without permits and boasted a Better Business Bueau accreditation that they did not earn. A fake BBB accreditation shows a disturbing lack of confidence in how one works, since the accreditation itself doesn’t really guarantee that they have been evaluated or endorsed by the BBB. The lack of permits, however, is a charge that should garner genuine legal action and can be seen as real old-fashioned criminal behavior.

Lack of a proper permit may seem like a small thing but to be frank, its one of the most potentially expensive problems you can find yourself in. Not having the right permit can legally cause an inspector or neighbor to file a suit and cause you to pull down any work you’ve done and start again from scratch, causing thousands of dollars potentially. My own mother fell prey to this when she built her front porch. And, to be honest, getting an inspector to come by and tell you what you can do is not really what you would call a hassle. Most inspectors want to help customers understand their project better and far from the bureaucratic task masters that more seedy contractors make them out to be.

In a perfect world, every contractor would have this stuff down but as that customer in Buffalo would tell you, this is not the case. Ask your contractors and service providers about these things, make sure they have it covered before you start in on any project. Otherwise, you might find yourself in the middle of tearing down that new rec room the day after Christmas, as your kids enjoy their presents out of your sight.