File a complaint with your State Attorney General and the Federal Trade Commission. In exercising its consumer protection authority, the FTC attempts to stop conduct that most threatens consumer welfare, such as fraudulent and deceptive practices.
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This is also a story about an atrocious roof installed by Eagle Construction. Did the Better Business Bureau, Better Contractor's Bureau, NARI - National Association of the Remodeling Industry, GAF Materials Corporation, or the D&C newspaper do anything to help the consumer? Amy wants to share what she has learned to help other consumers not make the same mistakes she made.
The New York State Attorney General serves as "public guardian" for consumers and the primary prosecutor for crimes committed against New York State's citizens. I believe that the NY State Attorney General's office is accomplishing plenty in the fight against contractors who do shoddy work, or otherwise cheat consumers. These statements from NYSOAG press releases give me optimism that, there may be hope.
"A statewide sweep conducted by my office earlier this year confirmed the need for consumers to be very cautious when choosing a home contractor," said New York's Attorney General, at the time. He realized that there is a "need for aggressive oversight of the home improvement industry to protect consumers' rights and investments, and to preserve the reputation of the industry against unscrupulous firms."
The New York Attorney General's office has promised to diligently investigate and prosecute those contractors who betray the trust placed in them by homeowners. "Unscrupulous business practices of home improvement contractors can ruin homes and destroy personal finances." "My office will continue to act aggressively to protect against home repair contractors who defraud consumers and besmirch the reputation of their industry." One case cited in this press release tells of an 84-year old woman who received an estimate of $525 to repair her roof. After completing the repairs, the contractor presented this woman with an amended contract of $13,800.00!
New York's former Attorney General said, "My office will attack the problem with all the tools we have – criminal prosecutions, where appropriate, civil lawsuits and aggressive mediation and education efforts."
"The prosecution of crimes against the elderly is a major objective of my office. We are determined to aggressively pursue those who prey upon the elderly, and we will devote the time and resources necessary to bring such criminals to justice," said NYS's former Attorney General. These contractors established emotional ties with their victims, portraying themselves as caring friends of their victims. In fact, the victims were manipulated by a pattern of lies, false promises, and misrepresentations. These crimes resulted in the loss of life-savings and retirement accounts for the victims totaling $1.1 million. One victim lost $528,000 including her home and virtually all of her assets. New York State law provides for increased penalties for deceptive and fraudulent acts, perpetrated against the elderly with willful disregard of their rights.
Excerpts from two notable press releases:
In a series of enforcement actions announced in the summer of 2004, the New York State Attorney General's office took aggressive action against home improvement contractors who made false promises to consumers and engaged in fraudulent activity. The New York Agency is requesting an order forcing the operators of these companies to: provide the Attorney General's office with a full accounting of their home repair contracts and lists of customers; to pay civil penalties for their violations of law; and to pay court costs. The settlements obtained by the AG's office represent over $123,000 in restitution to 34 consumers. In addition, collectively, the settling contractors agreed to pay $18,000 in civil penalties and costs and to the state. The consent orders also require each of the operators to post performance bonds in order to continue operating in New York State.
In one of the largest home improvement fraud cases in Western New York, the Attorney General announced that a grand jury has returned a felony indictment against a Buffalo contractor for stealing tens of thousands of dollars from consumers. The 33-count indictment charges [the defendant] with: one count of Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree, a class E felony; 26 counts of Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, a class D felony; and six counts of Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree, a class E felony. If convicted on all counts, the defendant faces up to 20 years imprisonment. New York State's former Attorney General said, "This case sends a message to home improvement contractors that fraudulent acts may result in severe consequences."
There are so many ways for a contractor to fleece a consumer / homeowner. Some perform shoddy or badly defective work. Some are engaged in misrepresentation and false advertising. Some refuse to honor warranties, refuse to give refunds, or demand payment for unauthorized work. Of course, some use combinations of the above as well as other deceptive and illegal business practices, fraud, and various violations of consumer protection laws.
One such law is NYS's Home Improvement Contracts Act, which requires that certain information be included in contracts, such as the name and address of the contractor, estimated dates when the work would begin and be substantially completed, certain notices about lien law implications, your federal right to cancel within three (3) business days, and a requirement that all progress payments be placed in an escrow account. Go to my webpage for all of the specific wording that should be in your contract.
The consequences for unscrupulous contractors may include felony criminal charges like Grand Larceny and Scheme to Defraud. The Attorney General's Office can conduct investigations, seek restitution for victims, impose civil penalties, and provide injunctive relief, to name a few. The AG's office has also sought court orders to permanently bar home improvement companies from operating in New York State.
Individuals with complaints, or those who believe they have been defrauded by home improvement contractors are encouraged to call the NY Attorney General's Consumer Hot Line at 1-800-771-7755. In many cases, there is a "window of opportunity" for additional consumers to fill out complaint forms with the Attorney General's office to become eligible for restitution.
In an effort to protect consumers, AG's Rochester Regional Office sometimes schedules public forums to educate consumers about the laws that protect them and steps that can be taken to avoid fraud.
Please be advised, though, that the attorney generals' offices may not be a "cure-all" for your predicament. Truth be told; there are a few hitches in their get-along. Their authority is limited by three drawbacks that I know about.
Office of the Attorney General
Albany, NY 12224-7341
Rochester Regional Office
144 Exchange Blvd., 2nd Floor
Rochester, NY 14614-2176
The Federal Trade Commission protects consumers by promoting the exchange of accurate, non-deceptive information, allowing consumers to make informed choices in their purchases. Accurate information in the marketplace facilitates fair and robust competition, and maximizes benefits for consumers. The FTC attempts to stop conduct that most threatens consumer welfare. The Bureau of Consumer Protection protects consumers against unfair, fraudulent, and deceptive practices. Its actions include individual company and industry-wide investigations, and to inform Congress and other government entities of the impact that proposed actions could have on consumers.
To file a complaint or to get free information on consumer
issues, visit http://FTC.gov
call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261.
You can also file a complaint by mailing it to:
Federal Trade Commission ♦ CRC-240 ♦ 600 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W. ♦ Washington, D.C. 20580.
Lastly, you can file electronically by visiting: FTC Complaint Assistant.
While the FTC does not resolve individual consumer problems, your complaint helps them investigate fraud, and can lead to law enforcement action. The FTC enters fraud-related complaints into 'Consumer Sentinel', a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
For more information on where to file your complaint and sources for general consumer information, you can go to an archived webpage that once belonged to 'National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators. I guess this wonderful consumer advocacy is now defunct. Anyway this archived page is chock full of information. NACAA.net/consumerinfo.htm. – Some links may not work.
If you suspect fraud, waste, or abuse involving Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster assistance programs, report it to FEMA's Inspector General's Office at 1-800-323-8603.
For New Yorkers:
Dept. of State Division of Consumer Protection
Toll free (outside 518 area code): 800-697-1220
You may want to try filing your first complaint with your NY's Dept of State 'Consumer Protection'. Only, don't expect any results in New Jersey. I filed my complaint against GAF (the roofing manufacturer) about a suspected substitution of one of GAF's products used on my roof. GAF continually stonewalled me, and the New Jersey's Dept. of Consumer Protection mediated for a while. Then, the representative for the Passaic County Dept. of CP retreated from negotiations, citing that both GAF and Eagle Construction had lawyers; and she could not go up against them, as she not a lawyer. The Rest of the Story
Most importantly: File complaints with your state's Attorney General and the FTC. Your complaints should include a complete description of the problem, but don't have to be too long and complicated. In this situation, it's not the quality of the complaints; it's the quantity of complaints. I can't stress enough how crucial it is for you to share your knowledge of serious issues with your contractor. We all need to protect innocent people, who cannot protect themselves. How well can people protect themselves if there's no information out there for them to find?
"Once you've been ripped off, it's next to impossible to get your money back. Even so, make a report to your state attorney general and the Federal Trade Commission."
American Samoa Attorney General (no website)
Virgin Islands Attorney General (no website)
Northern Mariana Islands AG (no website)