OHIO VALLEY — The state’s attorney general on Friday issued a warning to residents about contractors who unexpectedly knock on doors and offer tree-trimming services.
During the past year, Attorney General Mike DeWine said his office has received more than 50 tree-trimming complaints, most of which involved a door-to-door or word-of-mouth solicitation.
“If a tree trimmer comes to your door and wants to cut down your trees right away, be careful. It could be a scam,” he said. “Under Ohio law, most door-to-door sellers, including tree trimmers, must give you a three-day right to cancel and must wait until that period ends before starting the work. Don’t trust a tree trimmer who doesn’t honor your rights under the law.”
The Gallia County Sheriff’s Office earlier this year noted on its website that several tree-trimming scams had been occurring in the area. Also, a Bidwell man was arrested in April and accused of scamming residents in Mason, W.Va., after allegedly promising to complete tree trimming work he started but failing to finish it.
Complaints often follow that typical pattern, DeWine said. A tree trimmer knocks on doors while passing through the neighborhood, offering a competitive price for his services, takes payment in cash or check only, and then cuts down a few trees in the consumer’s yard. The tree-trimmer usually leaves the stumps in the ground and limbs scattered across the lawn.
The tree trimmer leaves, promising the homeowner that he will return to complete the job once he secures additional needed equipment or once inclement weather subsides. Despite the promises, DeWine said the tree trimmer never returns to finish the work, he said.
“Often, consumer victims are elderly and some may have dementia. The tree trimmer may try to scare the consumer into thinking the trees are damaged, diseased, or dangerous and should be removed immediately,” DeWine said. “Although the tree trimmer typically represents himself as a professional and draws up a contract, the contract is often incomplete and fails to mention the consumer’s cancellation rights.
Under Ohio’s Home Solicitation Sales Act, consumers generally have three business days to cancel most contracts that result from a door-to-door sale. Sellers are required to notify consumers about this right and generally they cannot start any services until after the three-day cooling-off period ends.
Signs of a scam include a tree trimmer who:
- Comes to the door unexpectedly.
- Claims trees are damaged, diseased, or dangerous.
- Uses a handwritten, incomplete contract.
- Fails to notify consumers of their cancellation rights.
- Requires a large down payment.
- Accepts only cash or check.
- Drives an unmarked vehicle.
- Starts work immediately.
- Performs incomplete or shoddy work.
DeWine said Ohioans can protect themselves by following these tips:
- Research the business. Check for complaints on file with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and do a basic Internet search of the tree trimmer’s name and words like “complaints,” “reviews,” or “scam.” Also talk to your neighbors and other past customers to ask about their experiences with the business.
- Get a second opinion. If a tree trimmer comes to your door and says your trees need work, contact another business to get a second opinion and estimate.
- Be skeptical of very low prices. If a tree trimmer quotes a price that is dramatically lower than prices other businesses are offering, be wary. The tree trimmer may later demand more money or do shoddy work.
- Don’t pay in advance. Be wary of tree trimmers who ask you to pay before the work has started. They may take your money without completing the job. Take time to think about the offer before signing a contract or making any payments.
- Get a detailed written contract. Insist on a written contract detailing the costs, the work to be done, and the starting and end dates. If the contract resulted from a door-to-door sale, make sure it includes notice of your cancellation rights.
- Consider paying with a credit card. Paying with a credit card generally gives you greater protections to dispute unauthorized charges. On the other hand, if you pay in cash, it will be very difficult to recover your money if something goes wrong.
DeWine said he has taken civil and criminal action against tree trimmers and other contractors who take advantage of consumers. For example, in June, he filed a civil lawsuit against a Springfield man accused of doing shoddy, incomplete work and failing to give consumers notice of their cancellation rights.
Consumers who suspect a scam should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov or 800-282-0515.
Reach Michael Johnson at 740-446-2342, ext. 2102, or on Twitter @OhioEditorMike.