Don't fall victim to a home improvement scam.

Home improvement scams are a terrible thing. Seniors are usually the target of them, and the stress and expense of dealing with them is overwhelming for many.

Having worked in media for more than 20 years I’ve seen a lot of devastating stories related to these scams. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be going away.

A recent poll out of the U.S. by JW Surety Bonds found that 1 in 10 Americans (based on 1,018 surveyed) have been victim to a home improvement scam. Not much of a surprise that Baby Boomers were the most likely to fall victim to one (15 per cent), followed by millennials (13 per cent), Gen Xers (10 per cent), and Gen Zers (9 per cent).

According to the poll, the most common scams included doing quick, low-quality work without a contract (34 per cent), providing a low-cost estimate then increasing costs during the project (23 per cent), and demanding a down payment or billing for shoddy work (22 per cent).

The poll also found that scammed clients lost an average of $2,426 USD and only 18 per cent of victims took legal action (another 30 per cent threatened to but never did).

Tips to protect yourself from home improvement scams

Speaking to Realtor Magazine, Maddie Weirman, a spokesperson for JW Surety Bonds, gave some tips to avoid home improvement scams. These include ensuring the contractor is licenced and insured, getting everything in writing and reviewing the contract carefully, and to never pay the full amount up front.

“Make sure that this contract includes the contractor’s name and information and when the project is projected to start and end,” Weirman told Realtor Magazine. “Don’t be afraid to ask the contractor for proof of insurance.”

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) also published this list of tips to avoid home improvement scams:

  • Watch out for “red flags.” Say no to cash-only deals, high-pressure sales tactics, high upfront payments, handshake deals without a contract, and on-site inspections. Not all “storm chasers” are con artists, but enough are that you should be cautious any time a home contractor contacts you first…especially after a natural disaster.
  • Ask for references and check them out. Bad contractors will be reluctant to share this information, and scammers won’t wait for you to do your homework. If you can, get references from past customers, both older references to check on the quality of the work and newer references to ensure current employees are up to the task. Check them out at to see what other customers have experienced. And always get a written contract with the price, materials, and timeline. The more detail, the better.
  • Know the law. Work with local businesses that have proper identification, licencing, and insurance. Confirm that your vendor will get related permits, and make sure you know who is responsible for what according to your local laws and that your vendor is ready to comply.

Have you been victim of a home improvement scam or know someone who has? Have tips on how to protect yourself against these scams? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Photo credit: Rene Asmussen