How did a Chesterfield, Virginia couple turn $800 into more than $5000 in just a few months?
This isn’t a story of $5000 in earnings, but of loss. They hired Thomas Ray Lee, a man posing as a licensed contractor, to do repairs of $800 on their deck.
According to the victims, Lee was a smooth talker. “He (Lee) called and told me he thought the deck boards were dry rotted and I may need a whole new deck with new deck boards.”
According to Alycia Reid, the victim, what was once a small, $800 project soon became a $4300 investment. She sent the scamming contractor $3000 in two separate Venmo payments. Lee started the project, dismantling the deck. Shortly afterward, he claimed to have been injured in a car wreck and canceled the project. He not only stopped the project, he also stopped answering her calls and texts. Regrettably, he has also not issued a refund. The Reid’s have spent an additional $1200 to fix the damage left by Lee. “So, we’re looking at $5000 we’re out right now because of this guy,” said Reid.
Other victims have come forward and there are now three outstanding warrants for Thomas Ray Lee’s arrest.
Recognizing a shady contractor is often not difficult. For example, Reid said she should’ve been alarmed when there was no company address listed on the receipts, he gave her. Another of Lee’s victims said she should’ve realized something was wrong when the contractor showed up at her home in an Uber.
Here are a few other signs of a Scammy Contractor and what to do to avoid becoming a victim:
• Require a bid in writing and get a written contract before you pay any money and before the work starts. A contract should include a detailed description of the work, material costs, start and completion dates and any warranty information.
• Never pay the full amount upfront or pay in cash only. Contractors shouldn’t ask for more than 10-15% of the total project before beginning. Negotiate payments be made as the job is completed. Before paying the completed amount, make sure the work is fully complete to your standards and complies with all codes.
• If a contractor doesn’t pay his suppliers for building materials, those suppliers can come after you for the cost of those materials. Put a stipulation in the contract stating you don’t have to pay the contractor until the materials suppliers have been paid.
• Insist on seeing references. Ask former customers detailed questions, including whether the project was completed on time and if there were any unexpected costs.
• Get several bids, but don’t automatically take the lowest bid. Competition is stiff and some contractors use inferior materials and cut corners in order to give a lower bid. Also, ask friends and relatives if they can recommend a reputable contractor.
• Before signing a contract, call us at the Better Business Bureau for the contractor’s rating and any complaints registered against them. Our number is 419-223-7010.
• Never agree to get any required building permits yourself. That is the contractor’s responsibility.
• Don’t let the contractor arrange financing for you. Scamming contractors have often arranged for the lender to pay them directly, giving them little incentive to finish a job or do it properly.
We have many very reputable contractors in our area that do excellent work at a fair price. Following the tips above will help you find them and avoid being a scam victim.
Reghan Winkler is executive director of the Better Business Bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at bbb.org/us/oh/lima.