scam alerts Shifty home improvement contractors across Pennsylvania are under the gun.

Attorney General Tom Corbett has launched consumer protection lawsuits against seven contractors accused of failing to start work, collecting excessive down-payments, not finishing projects, performing work in a shoddy manner, failing to pay refunds, not honoring warranties and other violations of the state's Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act.

"Complaints about home improvement projects 'gone bad' are typically one of the top reasons for consumers to contact the attorney general's office and we work vigorously to investigate these complaints and prosecute violators," Corbett said. "Home improvement rip-offs impact every community across our state, taking money out of the pockets of homeowners and also victimizing the honest, hard-working businesses who could have performed the work."

Among the lawsuits:

• BCM Landscaping / BCM Hardscapes / Pro Walls and Patio, jointly operated by Wayne "Butch" Kapalka and Joseph Kapalka, both of Tarentum, Allegheny County -- accused of failing to start work, performing work in a shoddy or unworkmanlike manner, using contracts that do not comply with the Pennsylvania Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act, failing to provide the required Notice of Cancellation for consumers, not registering as a home improvement contractor and failing to register a fictitious business name with the Pennsylvania Department of State.

• CHRC Contracting, Inc., owned and operated by Larry Harrison, Philadelphia -- accused of failing to perform work, collecting excessive down payments, failing to register as a home improvement contractor with the AG's office and using contracts that do not include the required Notice of Cancellation for consumers.

• David Slaughter General Contractor, along with owner David Slaughter, Philadelphia -- accused of failing to start work, not completing contracted projects, using inferior materials, failing to register as a home improvement contractor and using contracts that do not include the required Notice of Cancellation for consumers.

• Empire Electrical, owned and operated by Scott J. Ohanian, Schnecksville, Lehigh County -- accused of failing to complete contracted work, accepting down payments without beginning projects, not obtaining necessary licenses and permits from municipalities and failing to provide the required Notice of Cancellation to consumers.

• James Gorman Roofing and Painting, owned and operated by James Gorman, Kutztown, Berks County -- accused of failing to complete work, performing work in a shoddy manner, not honoring warranties and failing to provide the required Notice of Cancellation.

• KAR Contracting, owned and operated by Keith Ruppel, Coopersburg, Lehigh County (formerly operating from Lansdale, Montgomery County) -- accused of failing to provide services in a workmanlike manner, not honoring warranties, failing to provide refunds, not registering a fictitious business name with the Pennsylvania Department of State and failing to register as a home improvement contractor.

• Mucci Construction / Mucci Concrete & Paving, along with owner James Mucci, Croydon, Bucks County (formerly operating from Morrisville, Bucks County) -- accused of failing to perform work, not obtaining required permits, collecting excessive down payments and failing to provide the required Notice of Cancellation for consumers.

The lawsuits seek restitution for all consumers who have been harmed, along with fines and civil penalties of up to $1,000 per violation or up to $3,000 for each violation involving a senior citizen.

Other cases settled

In addition to these lawsuits, the Bureau of Consumer Protection has reached voluntary settlements with ten other home improvement businesses. These contractors are accused of operating without properly registering with Corbett's office or using contracts that did not comply with state law.

The settlements, known as an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance (AVC), require these businesses to fully comply with all the terms of the Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act and the state's Consumer Protection Law, including all requirements related to registration, advertising and contracts. Each of the AVC's also includes civil penalties and costs of $1,250.

Buyer beware

Corbett encourages any consumers considering a home improvement project to verify that their contractor is properly registered with his office. In addition to checking a contractor's registration, he advises those considering work to take additional steps to protect themselves from possible home improvement scams, including:

• Getting estimates from several potential contractors.

• Requesting references for recent work, and checking those references.

• Asking other customers if they were happy with the work that was performed by a particular contractor, if there were any problems with the project and if they would hire that person again.

• Avoiding high-pressure sales pitches, "special offers" or deals on "left over" materials.

• Be wary of individuals who approach you with unsolicited offers or stories of "just being in the neighborhood."