Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 31, 2012

CHARLOTTE — More than 1.5 million consumers search the local BBB’s online directory each year to find businesses for specific projects and to check out businesses before they sign contracts.
With warm weather, recent storms and a soft housing market, consumers are focused on home maintenance, remodeling and repair projects.
According to the BBB, eight of the top 10 types of businesses that consumers in the Southern Piedmont are researching the most are home-related:
• Roofing
• Home improvements
• Heating and air conditioning
• Windows
• Lawn maintenance
• Siding contractors
• Auto body repair
• Plumbers
• General contractors
• Mortgage brokers
“Spring is the high season for home improvement projects,” said BBB President Tom Bartholomy. “Unfortunately, it is also the high season for home improvement scams.”
The BBB advises homeowners to be wary of contractors who promise work at cut-rate prices.
“You need to do your homework before you hire any business,” said Bartholomy, “especially when you are hiring someone to work in your home, around your family.”
According to the BBB, consumers should hire a local contractor with a good track record of doing business locally.
Hundreds of reputable contractors work in the area who will deliver quality work, on time and within budget, added Bartholomy.
The BBB’s Top 10 Tips for Hiring a Contractor:
• Track record — Check out a company’s BBB rating and complaint history. You can search by company name, telephone number, or website.
• Cost comparisons — Get at least three bids in writing.
• Licensing — Check to see if the company you plan to hire has the proper licensing.
• Insurance — Verify the company’s liability insurance to protect you against damage. N.C. Dept. of Insurance – 1-800-546-5664 toll-free from N.C.
• References — Ask for references from the company’s last three jobs and check them out.
• Written contract — Do not sign a contract until you have read the terms and conditions, warranty and payment schedule carefully.
• Deposit and payment — Final payment should not be made until the work is completed. Do not pay in cash; pay by check or credit card.
• Warranty — Get warranty information in writing on products and installation.
• Bonding — Be sure all workers are bonded to protect you against theft or damage.
• Criminal history — Check out anyone you allow into your home to see if they have a criminal history. N.C. online offender search — online offender directory search
• • •
Have you received a text message offering you a free Walmart gift card? The BBB has a warning that the Walmart gift card text message is a smishing scam.
Smishing is a relatively new twist on an old scam that capitalizes on the explosive growth in smartphones. A smishing scam is a phishing scam that is sent to you via text to your phone, instead of via email to your computer.
“This smishing scam is using Wal-Mart’s name and popularity to lure in victims,” said BBB President Tom Bartholomy. “If you click on the link in the text message to sign-up for the free gift card, you will be asked for personal information that could be used to steal your identity.”
There has also been a significant surge in emails sent to businesses nationwide pretending to be from the Better Business Bureau. This phishing scam is designed to infect computers with viruses in order to steal banking or credit card information. For more information, visit