Scams come and go, but home repair fraud remains a problem nationwide, in just about any season of the year. A fly-by-night contractor knocks on your door, makes all kinds of promises, collects a check, and then disappears.

Some actually make an attempt at the work but do a shoddy job, the quality of which isn't readily apparent until they've made a safe getaway. While consumer officials deal with all sorts of new, emerging consumer threats, they find home repair fraud always seems to be around.

Just recently, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a lawsuit against two Chicago area home repair contractors who solicited thousands of dollars in work under the false promise that repair service was guaranteed for a lifetime.

Guaranteed for life...not

Madigan's lawsuit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, alleges Frank E. Edelmann and Lee Sobczak, both of La Grange Park, solicited consumers through deceptive advertisements in newspapers and on company websites that mislead consumers into believing they guaranteed certain repairs for life.

The lawsuit alleges the defendants operated Concrete Charlie Inc., Concrete Repair Center, Inc., and Ostarr Corporation of America, based in LaGrange, and lured consumers into contracts under this false premise violating the state's Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act and the Home Repair and Remodeling Act. Lifetime guarantees were made verbally or included in written work orders signed by the defendants and consumers.

Edelmann and Sobczak reportedly even gave consumers certificates to give the appearance their work was guaranteed, but the defendants never honored them and regularly avoided consumers who requested repairs through the lifetime guarantee.

Katrina fallout

In Mississippi, meanwhile, Attorney General Jim Hood this week reported a state court had sentenced a Gulf Coast contractor on felony home repair fraud charges. The contractor, Willian Wesley Mohr of Picayune, Miss., was arrested last year by investigators with the Mississippi Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General's Office. He came to the Mississippi Gulf Coast from New York, after Hurricane Katrina, doing business under the name Mohr Construction, Hood said.

To avoid home repair scams:

  • Get all estimates, guarantees and work dates in writing.
  • Get a second opinion whenever possible.
  • Avoid large payments up front.
  • Be suspicious of door-to-door solicitors, especially those offering free inspections.
  • Check ID before letting any worker into your home.
  • Check the credentials of companies: check their references; verify their number and address in the phone book; check for county or other local permits; check for complaints with the Attorney General or the Better Business Bureau; check for business registration with the Secretary of State.
  • Walk away from offers that are good "now or never."
  • Make payment only when the work meets the terms of your contract.