Scammers posing as home improvement contractors have long been a problem for homeowners, but a new scam is turning the tables by targeting reputable contractors of all types.
The Better Business Bureau of Central Illinois is warning contractors of the new scam that some in Central Illinois have already fallen victim to.
President and CEO of the Better Business Bureau in Central Illinois, Jessica Tharp says contractors of all kinds are being targeted nationwide in the new scam.
“”We actually had several local contractors contact us, just businesses throughout Central Illinois, that this has happened to. As we dove into it we found that this is happening all across the country to contractors of all types of services. We’ve seen carpenters, we’ve seen pressure washing companies, we’ve seen gutters, anything that you can possibly think of that would need to be done on a home is being targeted.”
Tharp says contractors are reporting having been contacted via text message from someone asking them to bid work on a property they own, which upon arrival is almost always a vacant property with the owner telling them they are out of town and want the contractor to complete the work.
Tharp says it’s at this point that the scam takes a turn and gets more interesting. “”What businesses are reporting to us is then the supposed consumer says “hey, I’ve got another contractor coming to do some work, would it be alright with you if I just paid you for their job and then you pay that contractor for me since I won’t be there.
If you could just keep an eye on their work as well that would help me out.” So then the consumer would then send a check to the business for the cost of the services estimated as well as the cost of the job for this 3rd party business as well. In some cases then the consumer tells the business, hey can you go ahead and pay the other contractor for their services? Here is their information can you just Venmo them their money or cash app?“
One local business said that they did it, just feeling like they were being helpful and they themselves are an honest business and would never dream of something like this happening. However, their payment app flagged the transaction and did not allow the money to go through to the alleged 3rd party contractor so they luckily were not out anything.””
Tharp says unfortunately not all contracting businesses have been as lucky with some actually sending the funds to the supposed 3rd party contractor, while in the meantime the check they were forwarded to cover both jobs bounced because it was a fraudulent check from the get-go.
Tharp says another red flag the BBB has noticed on these fraudulent checks is that they are written on a 3rd party check that does not match the name of the supposed property owner.
Tharp says by the time the check bounces, the legitimate contractor has already wired the money to the 3rd party contractor which is actually the scammers’ account.
She says there are a few ways home service providers can protect themselves from falling victim to these newest targeted scams. “Meet with the person face to face, even if it’s over a Zoom call, or Facetime, something where you can set some eyes on the actual consumer, is incredibly helpful. A lot of times that will shut it down right there. The alleged consumer will say they are too busy, they can’t do that, and they don’t want to show their face.
Also checking on the check itself is not out of line. You can call the bank that it is written on and just verify that this account number exists and it does belong to this person. But in general, they just have to be very careful about who they are doing business with, just like consumers do.”
Tharp says if you think you have been contacted or even taken advantage of by one of these scammers, contact the Better Business Bureau of Central Illinois by calling 309-688-5124, or by going to BBB.org and click on Scam Tracker to submit the information.