CHICAGO - The Better Business Bureau is warning Illinois residents not to fall victim to scams this spring as the need for yard maintenance picks up steam.
The consumer resource sent out guidance in March urging residents to do their homework on any lawn care service before spending any money or signing a contract.
The nonprofit says scammers will take advantage of the high demand for lawncare services and set up fake companies to rip off unaware customers.
"Also, fake websites stealing consumers money and ID information remains a huge problem in the USA. In the spring time we see more fake sites pretending to sell everything affiliated with lawn and gardening services and supplies," Steve Bernas, president and CEO of BBB of Chicago and Northern Illinois, said in a statement.
When hiring a landscaping contractor, the Better Business Bureau recommends checking the background of the organization at BBB.org. There, you can find an accredited business with good reviews.
Ross & Jack's Landscaping, based in Elmhurst, is one of them. General Manager Michael Spatola says business is booming. He also says scammers who pose as professionals are a big problem in the industry.
"Anybody could go pick up a pickup truck and a magnet and slap a sign on and say, 'hey, you know, I’m a professional landscaper'," Spatola said.
That is one reason why Bernas says to beware of people who come knocking on your door.
"Never let them in your house. You want to find out information about them first so ask them to leave a card," Bernas recommends.
Another tip, never pay cash.
"Never pay full up front either. So credit cards are your safest way of paying for anything," Bernas said. He also recommends having a contract.
"You want to have a start date, end date and you want to make certain what they're doing," Bernas said.
The BBB encourages people to take these steps to protect themselves from scammers.
- Research and gather information. Once you have decided what services you need and your budget, get recommendations from friends and neighbors with lawns you admire. You can search for a business’s BBB Business Profile at BBB.org to get free information on their history of complaints, read customer reviews, and see if they are a BBB Accredited Business. You can get a list of BBB Accredited lawn maintenance companies.
- Ask for a lawn inspection. Services that quote a price without seeing your lawn cannot be sure what your lawn might need. Businesses will sometimes charge you to discuss specific landscaping ideas to protect themselves against clients who want to get their ideas and implement them themselves. If you contract with the business, they will often credit you back for the initial fee.
- Have a clear scope of work before asking for estimates. This includes defining the area to be worked on and what you want done. When getting bids, don't compare apples with oranges. Make sure that each business has included the same services. Also, be sure that each business breaks the cost down in the same way (per visit, month, year, etc...).
- Ask for references and pictures of other jobs they installed or maintained. If possible, visit these locations to get a first-hand view of the quality of their work. Ask the references about their experiences before, during and after the work was done.
- Get receipts for any money paid. It’s better to pay by check or credit card, but if you make full payment in cash, be sure to obtain written verification from the business with a list of labor and material charges covered by the payment.
For more information on spring-times scams, visit BBB.org.