AARP Eye Center
By Debby Abe, Washington State Department of Labor & Industries
Marv and Dorothy Davenport never thought they were the kind of folks who could get conned.
Marv is a successful businessman who once owned a trucking business. Later, he and Dorothy operated their own gas station, RV park and mini-mart for 24 years in a rural logging community in southwest Washington.
But on a sweltering August day in 2014, a stranger in a black pickup drove up to their bucolic home and delivered a painful lesson in dishonesty. The couple lost $6,000 to the crook in a classic driveway paving scam that crops up around the country when the weather warms.
Instead of hiding in embarrassment, the retired couple is sharing their story in hopes other will avoid the same fate.
“You can’t trust everybody, I found that out,” Marv said. “This country was built on a handshake, but you can’t rely on that anymore.”
Protect My Home TV commercial
Marv and Dorothy are the centerpiece of this year’s Protect My Home consumer awareness campaign sponsored by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I). They retell key points of their paving nightmare in a commercial that’s running on websites, mobile devices and TV screens throughout Washington.
L&I staff produced the 30-second spot, which also gives tips on how to Hire Smart when choosing a contractor.
Contractors must register with L&I
“The best chance for a successful home improvement project is to hire a registered contractor,” said Shari Purves-Reiter, an outreach manager at L&I. “We hear many sad stories that could have been prevented if people would just Hire Smart. The Protect My Home campaign shows how to protect yourself when choosing a contractor.”
Many consumers don’t realize that state law requires construction contractors to register with L&I. The department confirms they have a business license, liability insurance and bond ¬– requirements that give consumers some recourse in case of problems. Consumers can check whether construction contractors are registered, their bond history and other information at www.ProtectMyHome.net.
Perennial paving scams
To check if contractors are registered, L&I inspectors show up unannounced at construction sites. Enforcement also includes investigating consumer complaints about contractors.
And every year, home and business owners report falling victim to paving scams.
There are plenty of law-abiding registered paving contractors who do a good job. The scammers, however, are usually unregistered contractors who travel through a region or across the country, going door to door in search of victims.
Typically, scammers say they have materials left over from a nearby job so they can offer a “really good deal” to pave, repair or spread gravel on a driveway. They quote a low price, do a quick and shoddy job, then jack up the price when they’re done. They often give invalid addresses and phone numbers so owners can’t find them when they realize they were duped.
It can happen to anyone
“They’re slick smooth-talkers who sound very convincing and friendly at first. Once they hook someone, they intimidate their victims into forking over thousands of dollars they didn’t plan to spend,” Purves-Reiter said. “They tend to target senior citizens, but adults of all ages have been conned by these unscrupulous contractors.”
That’s what happened to Marv and Dorothy.
The man in the pickup who approached Marv claimed to have a “little bit” of asphalt left from another job. Marv eventually gave in to the persistent man’s offer, and said he wanted a few spots on his driveway repaired. He said he’d pay $2,000 – but he didn’t get a contract.
Before he knew it, the contractor brought in an entire crew and dump truck, and proceeded to pave the entire long driveway, including a section that had just been resealed.
“I ran down and said, ‘No, no, no, don’t put any asphalt down there,’” Marv recalled. “He said, ‘We’re going to pave and make it all smooth, and really looking nice…’ He just kept right on going. I just could not get him to stop.”
When the crew finished, the contractor demanded $9,000, bringing Dorothy to tears. Marv refused, but then agreed to pay only for the materials. The contractor followed Marv to the bank to get the agreed $6,000.
Marv and Dorothy later discovered what a poor job the crew did, creating ridges and uneven drop-offs, and that the materials cost far less than $6,000. They also learned several other homeowners in the community were victimized by the contractor’s shoddy work and demand for more money. “Some of them even got threatened,” Marv said, “so they paid them to get rid of them.”
The Davenports told their story to the local paper in hopes of preventing more victims. A sympathetic, legitimate contractor saw the story and repaired the damaged driveway with materials donated by a local supplier.
L&I investigated their case, and cited the contractor for unregistered contracting. The company has not responded to the infraction.
The Davenports learned the hard way what the Protect My Home campaign recommends:
• Verify your contractor’s registration at www.ProtectMyHome.net or call 1-800-647-0982.
• Get at least three written bids.
• Check contractor references.
• Pay only as work is completed.
• Download a Hire Smart worksheet and get more tips at www.ProtectMyHome.net.
As Dorothy says in the ad, “That’s what we should have done.”