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Contractor fraud is something for all of us to avoid, just like the coronavirus.

While a contractor can be sued if things go wrong, various TV shows have illustrated how difficult that is, and many of the fly-by-night contractors are judgment-proof and long gone.

Avoiding the hiring of a bad contractor in the first place takes preparation. Word of mouth recommendations for recent work is one of the most important aspects of the project.

If others have had bad experiences, you are likely to as well. Call or ask others at church, social events and even the grocery store because this information will save you money, mess and heartache.

Ask the contractor for references and whether you can see the finished work. If so, take the time to see for yourself what the contractor can do. Photos shown to you or on a website can be misleading (or even someone else’s work).

You may have to wait longer for a top-notch contractor to start work, but it will be worth the wait.

Small jobs are often not popular with busy contractors, making them very fertile ground for bad contractors. Contractors generally make a bigger profit on bigger jobs, so be aware that the size of the job can make it more difficult to find a quality contractor. Many unscrupulous contractors focus on small project work.

West Virginia’s testing of contractors is rigorous. Doing an advance check on whether a contractor is licensed in the state by calling 304-558-7890 is smart. An online search for licensed contractors is available at http://www.wvlabor.com/new_searches/contractor_search_new.cfm.

When discussing a job with a contractor, also ask for his or her unemployment compensation insurance (if they have others working for them) and liability insurance certificates. If they don’t have them, ask why. Those coverages are protections against things that go wrong and can protect you, the consumer.

The contract that is drawn up and signed by both parties is crucial to the success of the project. If just a verbal contract is suggested to speed things up and it is an expensive job, insist on a written contract before any work starts.

Be sure to check over all of the contract terms about the work to be done, especially the preliminary demolition or prep work, and even ask someone else for help with interpreting what the terms are. Better safe than sorry, because this is your money that could be wasted needlessly and your problem to clean up.

If you are asked to make an advance payment for the materials, that tells you something about the contractor. Some reputable contractors will give you a listing and request that you order the materials. You know what you’re getting that way. Others include the materials in the bill as they go because they can buy them on credit.

Focus on quality materials being used on your job. Don’t let low-quality items shorten the life of the repairs or additions.

Inspect the work as it is being done or have someone experienced in construction help you with that. Ask questions. Don’t take it for granted that everything is going well.

Stick to the plan. If the contractor says, “While I’m here, I could do x, y and z,” that could be an expensive come-on. Don’t approve extra work without consulting with someone who is knowledgeable about the necessity for the extras.

When payment is discussed, make it clear that you will not pay the final amount until all of the work is done completely and as agreed upon. Don’t be pressured into paying early.

If things have not worked out as planned and you can’t locate the contractor or he won’t come back, you may consider contacting your county’s prosecutor to make a criminal complaint or filing a consumer fraud complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-382-4357.

Also, tough as it is to really face the facts, if you realize that you honestly can’t afford the costs of employing a good contractor using quality materials at this point in life, it may be far wiser to find another, possibly smaller, place to live with fewer responsibilities and expenses. You may save money in the process and decrease your worries, too.

If you have issues with a contractor or other legal matters and are a West Virginia resident aged 60 and over, feel free to call West Virginia Senior Legal Aid at 800-229-5068 to speak with a staff attorney at no cost.

The many excellent contractors working around the state are appreciated for their skills, but the few bad apples are not interested in making your job turn out as expected. They’re only interested in taking your money.