5 ways to avoid being ripped off by a contractor

KSAT Investigates provides simple tips to help get your home improvement contract done right

Tips on how to avoid being taken for a ride by a contractor. (Joshua Saunders, KSAT)

Earlier this month we introduced you to a Canyon Lake property owner who was out nearly $14,000 after a convicted thief accepted full payment for fencing work and never completed the job.

The victim said she pressed forward with hiring the contractor, despite several red flags that popped up along the way.

Below are five tips that can help you avoid being ripped off by someone hired to work on your home or property.


‼️KSAT Investigates has seen dozens of stories like these and identified 5 ways to make sure you don’t get ripped off by a contractor! 💻More details and links in KSAT.com/KSAT-investigates

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1. Research the contractor before giving him or her money

In the age of online reviews and news articles, a common technique for contractors with a criminal history is to use a fake name or a variation of their name to find fresh victims.

Your best approach is to do as much research as possible on a contractor before hiring that person.

A contractor with no digital footprint is a bad sign.

Many contractors will not have a website, but if they are running a reputable operation, they should be listed as a taxable entity on the Texas Comptroller’s website.

You can search the comptroller’s site for free HERE.

2. Do not pay for the entire job upfront

Another frequent tactic criminal contractors use is convincing victims to pay for an entire job upfront.

One maneuver they often deploy is to offer a discount on the total price if full payment is made before the work begins.

Some contractors claim they can get a discount on materials, such as fence posts or concrete, if it is all bought all at once.

This is a major red flag.

A contractor asking for a significant portion of money before even beginning to work is often a sign that he or she owes workers for a previous job, or is using the money you have paid upfront on something not related to your project.

It is not unheard of to pay a portion of the total price upfront, but just remember that the more you fork over ahead of time, the bigger risk you are taking.

Another shady maneuver from contractors is to do minimal work on the project, like simply dropping off materials, and then asking for another payment toward the final price.

Not only does this often lead to a person losing his or her money, but it can sometimes shield the contractor from criminal wrongdoing since he or she has proof that some work was completed.

It is much easier for a law enforcement agency to file theft charges against someone if he or she accepted payment for work and did not begin that work.

3. Use a reputable person or company and check reviews

It may seem convenient to hire the first contractor you find online, but a much safer approach is to take your time.

Avoid classified advertisement websites like Craigslist that are loosely regulated.

Instead, stick to those websites that charge service professionals to appear on their website - like Angi (formerly Angie’s List) and Home Advisor.

Just remember, once you provide your contact information, even reputable sites will typically hand over that information to several contractors who will call, email or text message you.

It brings prospective contractors to you, but may lead to unwanted cold calls after you have settled on a professional.

A tried and true approach to finding contractors is to ask family, friends or neighbors who they’ve used.

Do not be afraid to get multiple bids for the work before settling on a professional - some like to get three separate bids before making a decision.

Another thing you can do is check reviews on search sites like Google. Having few reviews could be a warning sign, or having consistently poor reviews.

4. Ask for the contractor’s license and insurance information

While the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) monitors many types of occupations in the state, it is not an all-encompassing list.

Service professionals not regulated by the TDLR, however, must often register to work in certain municipalities or at the very least, will have a history of applying for permits for previous work done in the area.

Ask to see proof of this work.

If a contractor cannot prove that he or she has ever done a similar project, is that really someone you are comfortable hiring?

You can also verify whether a contractor is insured.

Ask for his or her policy number and insurance carrier and call for yourself.

You can even take it one step further and check to see that the business address listed for a contractor’s company is legitimate.

It does not take much for a criminal to pick out a random address and start using it in business-related literature.

5. Don’t be in a rush, even when the contractor is

One of the most common red flags we see is contractors who claim to be able to start a project right away.

They promise to get the job underway quickly in exchange for making a payment then and there.

Don’t rush into it.

A sense of urgency is often a sign that your money will not go toward your home improvement project.

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About the Author:

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined KSAT Investigates in September 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat and on the Six O'Clock News. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.