Timothy Daniel Harbin, a 22-year-old Huntsville man, was arrested on Aug. 24 on a charge of first degree theft by deception (a Class B felony) after a warrant was issued in Blount County alleging he received money from a local resident to repair a home, but the work was never performed.
Kerry Weaver alleged in an affidavit that Harbin was paid $7,600 to make repairs on Weaver’s Rainbow Crossing home, but did not do the work or even order materials. Harbin is scheduled to appear in Blount County District Court on Sept. 19 for a preliminary hearing.
This type of fraud is not all that frequent in Blount County according to District Attorney Pamela Casey, who says she has prosecuted only four or five such cases during her tenure.
When a consumer is victimized, it can be costly. A homeowner can decrease the likelihood of becoming a victim, Casey says, by doing the following:
· Beware of contractors who come to you unsolicited or those who offer a discount on materials left over from a previous job.
· Do not give in to a high-pressure sales pitch and never agree until you determine exactly what you want done. Ask questions and demand a written contract that specifies the work to be performed, the materials to be used and the cost. Read the fine print.
· The contract should include a payment schedule that is tied to the job’s completion. Never pay with cash and never pay the full cost up front. Pay by check and demand a receipt.
· Only seek estimates from qualified contractors. Check them out with licensing agencies (see link below for a list) and the Better Business Bureau.
· Ask for references from previous customers and if they cannot or will not provide them, move on.
The Alabama Attorney General’s Office offers more advice about fraudulent contractors and suggests the following to protect the consumer:
· Verify the contractor’s name, address and telephone number. Be wary of those who use pagers and/or PO boxes instead of a street address.
· Besides asking for references, ask to see a job in progress.
· Ask to see the contactor’s occupational license issued by the Alabama Home Builders Licensure Board. (A contractor licensed before 1992 is exempt.)
· Get at least two bids and compare them.
· Check with appropriate professional associations or boards. (A list can be found at ago.alabama.gov/Documents/File-Verify-the-Contractor.pdf)
· Make sure the contractor has workman’s comp (if applicable) and liability insurance.
· Set a start-by and finish-by date in the contract.
· Get all the guarantees and warranties in writing.
The U. S. Federal Trade Commission offers tips about finding a legitimate contractor at www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0242-hiring-contractor.