There are a lot of contractor scams out there, including plumbers, and the best scammers have gotten good at their game. How can you avoid being taken advantage of? Become familiar with these six popular scams that shady plumbers pull, and then learn what to do to ensure you employ a trustworthy tradesperson.
1. The Ol’ Bait and Switch
The bait and switch is a popular scam that involves a plumber convincing you that you’re getting the best of the best when, in reality, they’re installing an inferior, lower-cost product. Then they pocket the profit. Another tactic might be to use the expensive materials but jack the price up way higher than it should be.
2. Who Are All These Guys?!
You hired a plumber to come work on an issue, but throughout the week you’ve had three different people show up, and you have no idea what they’re all doing. Sometimes one of these people is an apprentice. This is not unheard of, but note that an apprentice should always be monitored and have their work checked by a licensed plumber. To spot the scam, keep an eye on one or two things:
- Some plumbers will subcontract parts of the job to family or friends and then claim they have no control over the other people’s hourly rates when it comes time to write the bill.
- If there are three plumbers on the scene where the job only requires one, you could end up paying three hourly wages (and all different)!
3. Live in a Nice Neighborhood? Rates Can Rise.
Shady plumbers may pull into your driveway and see your nice, clean car. They may walk into your house and notice expensive artwork or a big-screen TV. Maybe you just live on the affluent side of town. Suddenly, their hourly rate goes up 50% to 100% in a matter of minutes, and you’re none the wiser. They may feel they can take advantage of you because it appears you have the money to pay.
4. The Wrong Things Upfront
A respectable plumber shouldn’t have any issue producing their credentials, plumber license number, and business cards if asked. If they’re a bit reluctant to show you, it may be that they don’t have that crucial information. You can check and see if their license is in good standing in the state of Texas by clicking here. Two other big no-nos are cash-only jobs and under-the-table payments. This also includes no written receipts. Often, this indicates that the plumber is not paying taxes or even carrying insurance. Another red flag is the plumber asking for 25% to 50% upfront. This is actually one of the most common scams listed on the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Most states have laws that prohibit plumbers from asking for more than 10% upfront. If the plumber requests a high amount upfront, they could take the money and run.
5. The Ever-Changing Estimate
The ever-changing estimate can take a few turns, and there are quite a few ways to run this scam. One involves the shady plumber going through the issues, calculating a “running total” in their head, but offering no numbers on paper. When you ask for an estimate, they say they’ll “get back to you.” Over the phone, they give you an amazing estimate, so you jump on it, and they promise to deliver the written quote as soon as possible. After they start the work, there’s still no paperwork. Before you know it, they’re done, and the price has jumped two or three times higher than the spoken estimate! A shady plumber could also quote a job without an inspection. Over-the-phone estimates are just that: estimates. Only an inspection can tell the real price. Verbal contracts mean nothing. A third version of this scam is the U-turn. The plumber is halfway through the project, and suddenly the contract changes, or additional work comes up. The plumber may have quoted low for the work but charges high fees for additional jobs that come up. If a plumber asks to change the contract mid-job, this may mean they have no idea what they’re doing.
6. Random “Plumbers” Knocking
This isn’t exactly a scam that plumbers pull, but it’s related. Recently, in Asheboro, North Carolina, there were a few cases reported of a man approaching houses, claiming to be a plumber. He asked homeowners to allow him into their homes to inspect their indoor plumbing on behalf of the city.
How Do You Avoid Scams?
How do you ensure you don’t fall victim to any of the common scams above? Here are some simple steps you can take to stay in-the-know and in charge!
- Know your plumber — Ask upfront for the plumber’s plumbing license to ensure they are a tradesman or journeyman in the state. It’s also a great idea to do your research on the plumber online. Look at reviews, their website, and their BBB rating.
- Get quotes, estimates, and a contract in writing — Make sure the plumber comes by for an in-person inspection of the problem or job and that you receive a paper estimate. If there’s no contract, you don’t have much legal standing if you run into issues.
- Get the parts the plumber will use in writing — Do your research online or at a local hardware store, and compare the prices to what the plumber lists. Make sure to double-check common items (i.e. washers) for markup.
- Ask upfront how many people (including any apprentices) will be on the job — You can also ask what each plumber will be doing. Simple repairs shouldn’t need more than one contractor, so check in if something doesn’t seem right. If more than one plumber is required for the job, ask for each one’s hourly rate, as they may be different.
- Never let a random person claiming to be a plumber—or anything similar—into your home, especially if they don’t have a license to back up their claim. If this happens to you, call the police immediately.
- Keep asking questions! — A plumber who wants your business won’t hesitate to put your mind at ease and explain their work.
If you’re looking for a reputable plumber, check us out first. At C&W Plumbing, 95% of our customers rate us at 5 stars, and not only are we A+ rated with the BBB, but we’ve also won the 2015 Angie’s List Super Service Award for our amazing business practices and ethics. We have the certification, training, expertise, and experience to back up our excellent work.
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