Contractor fraud investigations double in Alberta since 2015

Randy Kwong thought he had done everything right when he hired a contractor to install a metal railing on his deck last summer.

'He gave me so many excuses all of the time. He never did come here at all'

Randy Kwong paid half the cost up front for a new rail around his deck, but the contractor took off without finishing the job. (CBC)

Randy Kwong thought he had done everything right when he hired a contractor to install a metal railing on his deck last summer.

Kwong and his wife called references, met the contractor and got an estimate before signing the contract for work totalling $2,000.

"He was young and I thought I'd give him a try," Kwong said. "I get a lot of work done on Kijiji. I didn't expect to run into this problem."

After paying half the cost up front, Kwong said the problems began.

"He gave me so many excuses all of the time. Like his kid was sick and he had to take him to the hospital. 

"He said he was too busy and he's working on (the railing) at home making sections," Kwong said. "He never did come here at all."

Kwong is one of about 100 people in Alberta believed to have been scammed by the contractor, said Bradley Siddell, director of consumer investigation unit for Service Alberta.

"We've identified that this particular contractor has used online advertising 600 times," he said.

Contractor fraud doubled since 2015

Alberta's consumer investigation unit has seen contractor fraud double since 2015.

"Right now, out of the approximate 2,500 allegations that we have under investigation, … 1,000 of the investigations are specific to this activity," said Siddell.

The office has a range of penalties it can levy under the Consumer Protection Act, including warning letters, cease-and-desist orders or fines up to $100,000.

Since January, the office has settled more than 300 investigations.

But police may also become involved if the fraud is considered criminal, said Edmonton police Det. Linda Herczeg.

"We need to see the elements of whether or not they purposely and deceitfully lied to you, [whether] they took the money purposefully with no intent of ever doing the actual contract."

Siddell suggests contacting police and Service Alberta when first filing a complaint.

As is often the case, Kwong never did get his money back from the contractor.

"We can't always get you the restitution or the money back," Herczeg said, adding that even if a judge orders a fraudster to repay the money, victims are unlikely ever to see it.

Still, Herczeg and Siddell urge victims to report all cases of fraud.

"That piece of intelligence becomes hugely valuable to us because we're able to draw a connection to us between the different pieces of the puzzle," Siddell said.