El Paso County District Lawyer warns householders of contractor fraud

El Paso County District Attorney warns homeowners of contractor fraud

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) — If you’re considering a home improvement project, the El Paso County District Attorney’s office is warning you to do your homework before doing your home work.

Every year dozens of southern Colorado homeowners report losing thousands of dollars to shady contractors.

The El Paso County DA’s office encourages anyone interested in hiring a home improvement contractor to seek recommendations from someone they know. The best recommendations come from a family member, friend, or neighbor you trust who has previously worked with the contractor.

It’s also a good idea to check any contractor recommendations with online reviews or social media pages.

“The next step is to check their credentials at the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department. It has a great website you can go onto to look at contractors in the Pikes Peak region,” Senior Deputy District Attorney Andrew Vaughan said. “They’ll tell you if that contractor is licensed, and more importantly if they are licensed to do the project that you want to hire that contractor to do.”

Vaughan said checking to see if the contractor you are considering to hire is bonded is perhaps the most critical step in your search.

“If the contractor is bonded, what that means is if for some reason they’re unable to complete the project — maybe no fraud is involved at all, but maybe something just happened, I mean, it’s a pandemic so if something happened to that contractor and they couldn’t finish the project — the bonding company will step in and either help you finish the project for you or give you money so you can finish the project,” Vaughan said.

Another move that can potentially create problems is paying too much upfront before the contracting work has started.

“If your project is $50,000, (then) $1,000 or $2,000 to hold your spot doesn’t exactly raise red flags for me,” Vaughan said. “What raises red flags for me is if that contractor 50 or 75% before they even swing the first hammer.”

The last box you want to check off is ensuring the contract you sign isn’t one-sided to only protect the contractor.

“There are very few clauses are in there to protect the consumer. So, read your contract carefully and ask the contractor to put in some clauses that protect you,” Vaughan said.

Homeowners can also negotiate incentives into the contract in hopes of speeding up completion of their home improvement projects.

If you find yourself in a situation where you believe you are a victim of contractor fraud, the DA’s office recommends you contact the police and file a report.

“It’s not always just civil. People say that all the time, it’s a contract, it must be civil. There are occasions where the fraud is so prevalent that it actually crosses the line into a crime,” Vaughan said.

The Colorado Springs Police Department and El Paso County Sheriff’s Office have dedicated units with investigators who are specialized to work on contractor fraud cases.