More Than 50 Complaints Filed in Past 12 Months
(COLUMBUS, Ohio)—Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine warned consumers to be aware of contractors who come to their doors unexpectedly and offer tree-trimming services.
In the past year, the Ohio Attorney General’s 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,” Attorney General DeWine 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.”
Consumer complaints often follow a typical pattern. A tree trimmer comes to the consumer’s door while passing through the neighborhood. He offers a competitive price for his services, takes payment in cash or check, and then cuts down a few trees in the consumer’s yard, leaving the stumps in the ground and the limbs strewn on the lawn.
Then the tree trimmer leaves, promising to return to complete the job once he secures additional equipment or once the weather improves. Despite these promises, the tree trimmer never returns to finish the work.
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. 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.
Consumers 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.
Attorney General DeWine has taken civil and criminal action against tree trimmers and other contractors who take advantage of consumers. For example, in June, the Attorney General 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 http://www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov or 800-282-0515.