If there’s one thing I’ve been frustrated with throughout my journalism career, it’s fraud. By that, I mean sneaky snakes intentionally ripping people off.
Early in my career I covered a story about a fraudulent telemarketing company from Quebec that had been cold-calling people in town. They managed to find a 70-year-old woman in town who was a bit lonely and very trusting; these creeps managed to “sell” her $17,000 in office supplies. The RCMP got involved, and the ultimate insult was that the lady didn’t even get a single box of office supplies.
Another common fraud in rural Alberta is the traveling contractor. Some of these groups are almost like organized crime; they’re referred to in police circles as “Travelers.” The Pipestone Flyer receives all RCMP emails from every detachment in the province, and the Stettler RCMP commander Sgt. Phil Penny sent out a warning this week that applies to every part of rural Alberta about a scam that’s closely related to “Travelers:” the paving scam.
“Stettler RCMP would like to remind rural residents of seasonal paving scams, which typically pop up each spring and summer, and involve the following:
“Someone representing a paving company will randomly attend the residence trying to offer a paving job
“The person will often say they are finishing up a job nearby and have extra material they’d like to use
“They offer to do the paving job at a considerably reduced price because the resident will be doing them a favour by allowing them to use the left over product
“The paving is completed using inferior materials. Within a year’s time, the paving will begin to fail/fall apart. Attempts to locate the paving company or rep are unsuccessful.
“Stettler RCMP reminds citizens to do their due diligence and ensure any contract work they have done is by reputable people/companies. This may include conducting online research, checking references or speaking personally with other clientele in the area.”
In my opinion, not a single person in rural areas should consider hiring any door-to-door contractor. Those contractors, at best, will be difficult to contact for warranty work, take money out of the community and don’t return anything. At worst, these shifty fellows may steal your money and do substandard work, if they do any work at all.
Local contractors pay taxes, employ your friends and neighbors and send their kids to the same schools your kids go to. Those are the contractors you should be supporting.
However, if you’re absolutely convinced you’ll get a better deal hiring a stranger who shows up on your doorstep, keep these things in mind: urban areas like Millet and Wetaskiwin require a business license, even for traveling contractors. A door-to-door salesman once told me, “I don’t need a business license,” which is a bald-faced lie. Every merchant in town requires a business license, local or traveler, which allows the municipality to keep quality high and they should be able to produce their business license on demand.
Do not ever give a contractor a cash advance before finishing the job. A contractor that doesn’t have money other than what you’re paying him/her should throw up alarm bells like crazy. If they’ve already been paid, what’s keeping them around to finish the work?
Lastly, ask for references, especially local ones who can vouch for the quality of work. If you simply ask the traveling contractor, “Do you perform quality work?,” it’s very unlikely he/she will answer, “No, I’m probably going to steal your advance payment and disappear before the job is done.”
Stu Salkeld is editor of The Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.