Spring is here, and the buds are sprouting like mushrooms after rain. Unfortunately, so are the scams. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning of an uptick in lawn-care scams, which can be difficult to spot. Here’s what you need to know about these scams and how to play it safe.
How the scam plays out
A lawn-care scam can be challenging to identify since the company behind the scam may not be doing anything outrightly criminal. Instead, the company usually provides the victim with lawn-care services they never asked for, and then bills the victim for these services.
In a typical lawn-care scam, a lawn-care or landscaping business will target homeowners with ads, phone calls and other sales tactics. The approach will often be high-pressure, with the company claiming that conditions on the homeowner’s lawn are hazardous, stressing a need to be tended to urgently. They’ll even offer to inspect the victim’s lawn and provide a free quote for the services the lawn requires. When the victim accepts this offer, a date and time will be set for the complimentary inspection.
Unfortunately, though, on the day of the planned inspection, the victim will arrive home to see a sign posted on their lawn detailing all the work that has already been done on behalf of this company! The victim is then billed for this work, and when they protest, the business will claim that the victim had verbally agreed to the services provided.
Sadly for the victim, this is likely only the beginning of a lawn-care nightmare. The company may send workers to perform lawn-care services on the victim’s yard, again and again, regardless of how many times the victim says they don’t want or need the services. Failure to pay for these services will prompt the scammer to threaten to call collection agencies. Usually, the victim eventually pays for these services for fear of having the lawn-care company follow through on this threat.
Sometimes, the scam is less extreme, taking the form of a company doing shoddy work and charging a pretty penny for it, not delivering services as promised or tacking on extra charges and fees without warning.
Avoid getting scammed
Before hiring a lawn-care company, the BBB recommends taking the following steps to ensure you’re not getting scammed:
- Research the company. Look up the business’s profile on the BBB website or search for its name on the bureau’s list of accredited-lawn maintenance companies. Look for any necessary licensing and insurance and check to see if the company belongs to any landscaping organizations, such as the National Association of Landscape Professionals. To avoid signing a “verbal contract” as described above, do not reach out at all to any company before researching them.
- Ask for a lawn inspection. If a business quotes a price without taking a look at your lawn, there’s only a slight chance the quote will be accurate. It’s best to have the company first inspect your lawn and then quote you on the care it needs.
- Get everything in writing. The BBB urges homeowners to get all promises and claims in writing and to read all agreements and contracts carefully. Don’t skip any small print! Make sure the contract clearly explains the terms of the agreement and for how long it is valid. The contract should also list the quantity, size and types of plants and other materials that will be used by the lawn-care company. Look for guarantees and refund policies and keep a personal copy of anything you sign.
- Ask for references and pictures of past jobs. If possible, visit these locations to check out the jobs for yourself. Call the references and ask for an honest review on the service provider.
- Get specifics on pricing. Do you pay by the mow or by the month? Will you have to dispose of clippings on your own? Are service calls free of charge? The more you clarify up front, the less room you’ll leave for surprises later.
- Ask for receipts for all paid invoices. Obtaining written verification from the lawn care company with a list of all labor and materials covered by the payment will help you avoid misunderstandings and overcharges.
If you’ve been scammed
If you’ve had the misfortune of being duped by an unscrupulous lawn-care company, you may have difficulty extricating yourself from any contracts or agreements. You can report the scam to the FTC and the BBB , and reach out to local law-enforcement agencies to ask about your best next step.
Don’t get scammed by a lawn-care company! Follow the tips outlined above when hiring a provider and keep your money safe.
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Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a lawn-care scam? Tell us about it in the comments.