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How to avoid getting scammed by a fraudulent snow contractor

It is not only corporations with large parking lots that are the target for snow removal scams. Residential driveways can also be prime targets for scammers. These scams can take many forms, and we'll try to cover the basics here in order to make you an educated consumer.

Your first tip-off that perhaps the contractor you've been in correspondence with could be trying to scam you is in regards to price. Currently in 2016, in order for the contractor to cover basic costs and overhead, the basic price of a seasonal contract for a small residential driveway and walkway should start at approximately $1250.00 per season, and go up from there. Properly pricing their service will allow the contractor to run a profitable, reliable business, while providing you with the promised level of quality service throughout the winter.

Currently in 2016, in order for the contractor to cover basic costs and overhead, the basic price of a seasonal contract for a small residential driveway and walkway should start at approximately $1250.00 per season, and go up from there.

Snow scammers and/or companies who offer a very low, unsatisfactory level of service are likely to advertise a much lower seasonal price, sometimes as low as $250.00 to $350.00 for the entire season. This cheap offer of service sounds like a very attractive price to the consumer, and the contractor offering this price will be very quick to point out how easy and straightforward the customer's property is to clear. If the job is to be completed in a timely and satisfactory fashion throughout the snow season, this “too good to be true” offer is simply not enough to cover the contractor's expenses. Usually, the contractor in question will ask for the entire contract paid for in-advance.

Once you enter into an agreement for a service which sounds “too good to be true”, the likely outcome will not be a happy ending for you, the consumer.

Here are some of examples of what might happen once you’ve signed up for one of these fraudulent contracts:

1) The fraudulent contractor has no real intention of clearing the snow at your property. His tactics are based purely on offering such a cheap price that it will stun the client into immediately signing, and paying. The contractor will likely arrive once with a shovel for a few minutes, in order to avoid a criminal fraud charge. Since visiting the property once will limit the ability of the police to criminally charge the contractor for fraud, the contractor will be able to keep all of the money you paid with absolutely no fear of prosecution. The property owner’s only recourse will be small claims court, but in most cases the lawsuit will never be pursued for such a small amount of money. The fraudulent contractor gets off scot-free, while the property owner is stuck with no snow service and less money in their pocket.

2) The fraudulent contractor never had the intentions of clearing the property himself, and will sell that contract to somebody else with the hopes that they will clear it. Now you have lost control over who's performing the work, as well as any service issues that may arise. It could also be very difficult to determine who's actually responsible for your property, if anyone is at all.

3) The fraudulent contractor is booking as many jobs as he can in the fear he may not have enough work to do in the wintertime. Then, shortly before service season begins, he reviews all of his contracts and cancels the inexpensive residential clients and returns their deposit (hopefully).

4) The fraudulent contractor intends to carry out the work, however has fifty to eighty other service calls to make before he can start performing work at your residential driveway. You will be beyond low priority, and will be lucky to see the contractor perform the work before the snow melts by itself. During a light snowfall, service times may vary between 24 and 72 hours after the snowfall has ended. In the event of a big storm, reports of people waiting 4 days to a week are not uncommon.

5) The fraudulent contractor does visit the property to perform the work, however the contract itself is vague about all that it includes and has left you open for additional charges. Given this, the contractor will add on extra, unexpected fees such as overage charges, extra salt charges, heavy accumulation charges, etc… Because you have entered into a legal agreement with this company, you are in fact obligated to pay any and all of these extra charges. It is not uncommon for these types of contractors to bill their clients for two, three, four, even five times the original contract amount. The end result will be a further loss of money and undue stress for you, the consumer.

Never fall for an unbelievable deal - in most cases, it is way too good to be true!

Remember, as a residential property owner, the City of Toronto's by-law regarding snow and ice removal states that it is your responsibility to have either you or your contractor clear the snow and ice within 12 hours following the end of a snowfall. So, if you inadvertently hired any of the fraudulent contractors described above, not only would you have lost what money you paid, but you would also have to do the work yourself. On top of that, if somebody in the midst of this was injured on your property, you would be deemed negligent and could face lawsuits ranging in the millions of dollars. Never let an unbelievable deal fool you into giving your money away, always research the contractor prior to signing up with them.

Getting the right price from a good contractor is possible with a little research and some due diligence, however, finding a good contractor for a price that is “too good to be true” is never possible and will leave you and your property vulnerable to unforeseen liability, exorbitant expenses, and unnecessary stress.

Written by George Armstrong, General Manager, Monster Plowing Company

Having started his career with Monster in the early days of the organization, George has been instrumental in helping make Monster Plowing Company what it is today. George brings with him intense enthusiasm for his work. Snow maintenance isn't just a job, its a passion, and his input, innovative thinking, and creative problem solving have proven invaluable to the success of our team. From sales to equipment maintenance, service delivery to quality control, George ensures that every day is a smooth one. In 2015, George's dedication culminated in being named a 2015 All-Star of Snow and Ice by the international Snow and Ice Management Association (SIMA).
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