|After a series of tornadoes in northern and central Illinois, Attorney General Lisa Madigan has warned Chicago and other Illinois residents to be on the alert for roofing and home repair scams that often pop up in certain seasons and after such storms.
“The communities hit by these tornadoes face a long recovery process,” Madigan said in a news release. “During this challenging time, I encourage area residents to be cautious and on alert for scammers trying to take advantage of people in need of assistance.”
She noted that these scammers often use the pressure of recent damage to persuade homeowners to make impulsive, expensive decisions regarding roofing and other cleanup and construction work.
The attorney general’s office also announced that lawsuits have been filed against four businesses that apparently previously scammed suburban Chicago and central Illinois homeowners out of around $220,000.
“In some of these cases, homeowners are faced with the possibility of liens being placed on their homes all because they put their trust in the wrong people,” Madigan said. “Be wary of anyone who knocks on your door offering services and make sure you obtain written copies of all contracts and warranties.”
Madigan encouraged any consumers to check out prospective workers by calling the attorney general’s consumer fraud hotlines (numbers are available online), and warned against paying in cash.
It’s important to check out the reputation of any company in advance and get a written contract; some fraudsters will appear to start satisfactory work but cut corners along the way in order to move on to other projects, leaving homeowners with far less recourse (installing a new roof on top of the existing one to save time, for example, cuts the life of the new roof by 20%, according to expert estimates).
Though Madigan’s warning is aimed specifically at Illinois residents, it’s a sentiment many homeowners across the country should probably heed as they look to repair damage from summer and spring storms; even typically mild cities such as Austin have seen serious storm damage in the past weeks.
|Roof repairs are an unfortunately common service in the United States, especially in areas prone to storm damage from hurricanes, tornadoes and other meteorological events. Even worse, the need for this work often draws in con artists looking to scam residents when they try to fix their homes. However, victims and local authorities are sometimes able to band together and put an end to this prevalent type of fraud. In one example, a businessman in Ohio accused of swindling more than $150,000 out of state homeowners was recently sentenced to 59 months in prison after his victims joined forces with area law enforcement.James Twaddle, 42, was sentenced to 59 months in prison after pleading guilty to attempted engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, grand theft and theft from the elderly. Since 2012, Twaddle’s company, Restore It USA, is believed to have swindled money from more than 40 homeowners throughout central and southwestern Ohio, many of whom were elderly and paid thousands for work that was never completed. The victims were reportedly approached at home by company representatives and asked to request insurance funds to repair storm-damaged siding and roofs. But after they received the insurance money, the homeowners say Twaddle’s workers never returned to start the project.
In Union County Common Pleas Court on Tuesday, March 24, witnesses shared stories of the anger, embarrassment and resentment they experienced after being scammed by Restore It USA, emotions made worse by warped floors, mold and hail damage that was never fixed. One 71-year-old woman from Marysville lost more than $5,300 after trusting Twaddle’s employees. Another victim, a hospital chaplain, reported that he spent $4,100 in the scam even as Twaddle lived a lavish lifestyle.
The full extent of the company’s fraud was apparently discovered two years ago, when Union County Prosecutor David Phillips began investigating Twaddle. Phillips contacted the office of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine to find out if other state residents had made similar complaints. They soon realized that the swindle was widespread.
“The best protection against being taken by these fly-by-night companies is to do your homework before you hire a contractor,” said Michael Hariu, president of Paramount Roofing & Siding of Madison, Wisconsin. “First, be cautious of contractor’s that come knocking on your door — this is a standard tactic of storm chasers. Check with the Better Business Bureau for complaints and ask how long the contractor has been at their local address.”
Over the course of his trial, Twaddle’s attorney claimed that Restore It USA had grown rapidly in other states, rendering its management unable to afford the salaries of its salespeople or pay workers to make repairs. However, prosecutors argued that Twaddle spent the money on expensive clothes, sporting gear and a $17,000 engagement ring. At his sentencing, Twaddle told the judge that he had failed in his responsibility to ensure that the contracts were fulfilled and apologized to the victims.
“One excellent method of checking a contractor’s history is through Angie’s List,” continued Hariu. “Contractor’s are not able to buy their way onto Angie’s List and reviews come from actual past clients. This will tell you what actual customers think of the work they have one.”
Twaddle was ordered to pay full restitution, an amount equal to more than $153,000. The amount has since been deposited to the Union County court clerk and will be distributed to the victims. Briefly, it appeared that this might work in Twaddle’s favor, leading to a shorter prison sentence. However, the judge announced that he had reconsidered after learning that arrest warrants had recently been issued for Twaddle in two other states.
Unfortunately, Twaddle and Restore It USA are far from the only con artists offering roof repairs. During tornado season, for example, Midwestern states are often flooded with companies from across the country, offering to make repairs despite having little or no knowledge on the subject. These scam artists often not only fail to correct existing damage, but may also cause further ruin, costing homeowners thousands of dollars their insurance may not cover.
“There are many local contractors who provide quality work for you and be there to stand behind their work for years to come. You just need to do your homework and make sure you are hiring one of them,” said Hariu.