McGraw warns of paving scams


CHARLESTON -- West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw is warning consumers in the state to be on the lookout for unscrupulous pavers offering to sell them "leftover" asphalt at a discounted price.

McGraw's office said the "crooks" try to prey on homeowners every spring -- but this year there's a twist to their scheme.

According to the Attorney General's Office, someone using the name Danny Blankenship, operating as Danny Blankenship Asphalt, Paving, Sealing and Patchwork, has been going door-to-door telling homeowners that he has been sealing public streets in their neighborhood. Then, he claims that the government authorizes him to use the leftover asphalt to seal driveways in the neighborhood.

Eugene Elkins of Charleston was a recent victim of the scheme.

On May 26, Elkins agreed to let Blankenship pave his driveway. After the work was done, Blankenship and his associates pressured Elkins into signing a contract and made him pay more than $4,000 for the shoddy work.

The Attorney General's Office said licensed contractors in West Virginia are required to provide a written contract for any home improvement project more than $250. However, contractors are not required to have insurance, to post a surety or performance bond, or to provide proof of financial responsibility.

McGraw warned consumers to "be careful and do your research before deciding to hire someone."

He provided the following tips to avoid being the victim of a contracting scam:

* Always check with the Contractor Licensing Board to make sure the contractor is licensed;

* Ask for references and be sure to check them;

* Check with the attorney general's Consumer Protection Division to see whether complaints have been filed against the contractor;

* Never pay money in advance for labor or materials;

* Avoid contractors who do not provide a written contract containing all of the terms of the work before the work is started;

* Avoid contractors who can only be reached by leaving a message on an answering machine;

* Avoid contractors who drive unmarked vans or have out-of-state license plates;

* Avoid contractors who pressure you for an immediate decision;

* Avoid contractors who offer a discount for finding them other customers;

* Avoid contractors who quote prices that are obviously too cheap;

* Ask for proof of insurance and find out whether the contractor is bonded. Make sure the contractor takes responsibility for worker injuries; and

* Pay by check or credit card and, if possible, avoid on-the-spot cash payments.

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