Consumer Watchdog: Scammers don’t take snow days

Consumer Watchdog - Joe Dolinsky | January 27th, 2016 2:21 pm


Have you been wronged by a business? Have you been the victim of a scam? Our Consumer Watchdog is here to help. To reach our Consumer Watchdog, email

As the frozen force dubbed by pundits as “Snowmageddon 2016” winds down and most of us emerge from our fallout shelters and bread-and-milk-induced comas, we’re left with the tough task of assessing the damage left in the storm’s wake.

Many of us might even be inspecting the chaos today. While some of Northeastern Pennsylvania was somewhat spared from what “experts” initially predicted, parts of the state and much of the East Coast were slammed with piles and piles of snow best measured in feet.

The aftermath generally leaves those hit hardest scrambling to fix the damage and trying to return things to normal as soon as possible, whether it be damage from vehicle accidents, caved in roofs or tree limbs that gave out under the weight of all that white stuff and came crashing down onto your property.

But be warned: Scammers don’t take snow days.

In fact, it seems when victims are at the worst, most of these folks lace up and bring out their best — trying to use the emotion of a destructive storm to trick eager consumers into paying for repairs or clean-up work that often either doesn’t cut it or doesn’t happen at all.

Now, a warning: This doesn’t mean you should punt the neighborhood kid offering to shovel your sidewalk for $5 off your front porch and into the yard. That’s not the type of trickery at play here, and little Johnny will be grateful to avoid said punting.

But do be cautious of people showing up seemingly out of nowhere and offering larger-scale work for big sums of cash, namely fence repair, tree removal, furnace fixes or other home services. If they claim to be from the area, try using the Internet to search their names and verify that they are who they say they are, and that they’re a legitimate business.

The Better Business Bureau also suggests checking with your insurance companies about what types of damage your policies cover. Much of the damage might be covered. Keep copies of receipts for emergency repairs for reimbursement later, the BBB advises.

If the damage is truly catastrophic and you do need significant repairs, shop around for competitive bids and again, verify the reputations of the bidders. When the work goes smoothly and professionally and you get the best bang for your buck, you’ll be glad you took the extra time to search for the right contractor.

No matter what the situation is, get everything in writing. For storm repairs, make sure the price, materials and time of completion are hammered out ahead of time. Ask to see the contractor’s proof of insurance and licenses. No surprises.

Never, ever pay the full price ahead of time. You’ll be left with unfinished work and the scamster will be laughing all the way to the bank with your money. Instead, a down payment of around 25 to 30 percent of the price is typically the benchmark for such work.

If you can, the BBB advises paying with a credit card. Credit card companies typically offer protection in the event you’re swindled or the work isn’t completed as agreed upon.

Hopefully most of us avoided any significant damage, but if you didn’t, these tips could prove helpful when trying to restore things to normal.

Speaking of restoring things, the once-and-former Consumer Watchdog, Christine Young, will be taking over the reigns of this column going forward. I have no doubt consumers will be in capable hands. Make sure to welcome Christine back into the fold, and send any deceptive business practices or scams her way.

And thanks for reading along these last few months.

Consumer Watchdog

Joe Dolinsky


Have you been wronged by a business? Have you been the victim of a scam? Our Consumer Watchdog is here to help. To reach our Consumer Watchdog, email

Reach Joe Dolinsky at 570-991-6110 or on Twitter @JoeDolinskyTL