Beware of These Top 4 Home Improvement Scams

Home improvement and repair is rife with scammers.  Houses possess complicated, remote, and scary areas that homeowners would rather not--or cannot--confront by themselves. 

As you read these real-life examples, notice themes common to most home improvement scams:

  • The scammer comes to you, you don't seek them out.
  • They "just happen to be in the neighborhood."
  • They don't want to sign a contract or show a license.
  • They keep dropping the price, often precipitously.
  • They prey on your fears and your good nature.
  • Or, in the case of the first one, you are desperate and have few other options...
  • 01 of 04

    The Google Locksmith Scam

    Locksmith Picking Lock
    Locksmith Picking Lock. Getty / DAJ

    What You Experience

    It's late and you're locked out of your house.  You Google "locksmith" and voila--a red dot springs up on the map.  Enticed by the $35-$90 service estimate, you call.  Thirty minutes later, a technician shows up.

    That's when the real trouble begins.  Instead of a comfort-inducing white van, the guy pulls up to your house in a battered Suzuki Esteem.  

    The estimate balloons to $350 or more.  If you object, you get the guilt trip--or even sheer intimidation--about how you pulled him out of bed and it's the middle of the night.  And he says you still owe him for showing up anyway.  You pay up--cash, of course--all for the privilege of having your lock drilled out.  

    What's Really Going On

    This is called the Google Map or Google AdWords locksmith scam.  Companies or individuals exploit Google Maps' lax system of crowdsourcing local listings and populate your map with fake listings.  

    No brick and mortar location exists.  Even though the business' phone number displayed your area code, the call was routed through a call center in Israel, Mexico, or India.  The address shown on Google Maps was chosen by someone 6,000 miles away and might just be a random spot on the pavement.

    The person who shows up is a barely-trained subcontractor who has two mission is life:  to pop locks (not provide true locksmith services such as lock replacement or re-keying) and collect as much money from you as you are willing to pay.  

  • 02 of 04

    End of Day, Too Many Shingles Left Over...

    Scam Artist At Door
    Scam Artist. Getty / sturti

    What You Experience

    "Sir, I just happened to be working on one of your neighbor's roofs earlier today."  He waves his arm behind him, in no specific direction.  "And I had too many shingles and tar paper left over.  I've got a whole two squares left!  I gotta get rid of these shingles before I go back to my boss or he'll ask why I ordered too many in the first place.  I could get canned!

    "Now...I notice your south side could start leaking like mad in that rainstorm predicted for Sunday.  Let me replace that whole 150 square feet--just a little side arrangement, you and me, no pesky contracts or anything--for only $475.  I'll be done before dinner.  Come on, help a guy out?"

    What's Really Going On

    The "excess of materials" scam might involve shingles, siding, hot-mix asphalt paving, bark, gravel--just about anything that can get dumped onto your property or installed.

    If you're lucky, they will actually install the materials, but they will do so in a ridiculously incompetent fashion.  Shingles might get tacked right on top of shingles--anything that looks acceptable to you, the homeowner, when you inspect it from the ground.  In the worst case, they will cut and run as soon as you have gone into the house.

  • 03 of 04

    Coat Asphalt Driveway, Jack Up Price Beyond Belief

    New Asphalt Driveway 1500 x 1000
    New Asphalt Driveway. CC-Licensed; Flickr User Danny Votra

    What You Experience

    A man rings your doorbell.  He tells you that your asphalt driveway is looking worse for wear.  He says he can restore it to its "just-poured blackness" for $1,200 in only one day. 

    You say that $1,200 sounds like a lot of money.  He drops it to $800.  You again say it's a lot of money.  He drops it to $600.  This sounds like a great deal:  price cut in half within ten minutes!

    What's Really Going On

    This is a $50 job, maybe as much as $100.  Individuals ply neighborhoods looking for bad asphalt drives, with the intention of pouring out and sweeping a watery substance called driveway black across the surface. 

    It's like "paint for your driveway," though some homeowners mistakenly believe they will be getting a thick layer of the real stuff--hot-mix asphalt paving.  Funny that the scammer does nothing to dissuade the homeowner of this notion.

  • 04 of 04

    "You've Got Mold, and I Know Just The Person..."

    Mold Growing on Windowsill
    Mold Growing on Windowsill. hawn Gearhart/E+/Getty Images

    What You Experience

    A company advertises a great offer on mold inspection and testing.  They come, and you're reassured because the technician is friendly and helpful. 

    As suspected, he does find mold in several places.  He tests it in his lab-equipped van and comes back, telling you that it is the "dangerous kind" and exceeds "federal minimum standards" for air-borne mold.  He  recommends mold remediation--his company, of course.

    What's Really Going On

    Before he arrives at your house, he has already decided that your house has mold.  Perhaps you really do have mold in problem areas, such as in attics above poorly ventilated bathrooms. 

    Do you think he really tested those samples in his van?  Also, it's impossible to make a determination about air-borne mold spores without proper testing.  There are no federal standards for acceptable minimal levels of mold. 

    Finally, if the same company that removes mold does the testing, you can bet that they will find mold.  This one is a scam all around.