New Brunswick

Keep digging: Consumer advocates warn homeowners of snowplow scams

When it comes to snowplow contractors, homeowners might want to do a little extra digging this winter season.

'If something seems too good to be true, oftentimes it is,' warns Peter Moorhouse

When it comes to hiring a snowplow contractor, homeowners should be wary of scams. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

When it comes to snowplow contractors, homeowners might want to do a little extra digging this winter season.

This winter, Peter Moorhouse, CEO and president of the Better Business Bureau for the Atlantic region, is warning people to be cautious.

"Hasty decisions sometimes result in bad decisions," Moorhouse said. "When we're in a panic, we don't always do the things that we should."

Every winter, he said, his office receives phone calls from people who have received poor snowplow service, are unable to get service, or have mistakenly given money to a someone who never shows up to clear the driveway.

"If something seems too good to be true, oftentimes it is," he said.

Moorhouse said any homeowner can fall prey to a snowplow scam. People particularly at risk are those who have trouble shovelling because of age or mobility challenges.  

Peter Moorhouse, the president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau for the Atlantic Region, advises doing some research before hiring a snowplow contractor. (Peter Moorhouse)

"Sometimes people who think they're invulnerable are, in fact, at most risk," he said.

Moorhouse used the example of a Halifax scammer who took cash deposits from people to secure snow removal services for the winter.

"He had a full page contract full of terms and conditions you would see in a contract like this," he said. "The only problem was that all of the contact information on the contract was completely bogus."

Moorhouse said the company wasn't registered, the contractor's website and email didn't exist and the toll-free number on the contract was forwarded to a nail salon in Florida.

How to avoid a snowplow scam

Moorhouse says anyone can fall victim to a snowplow scam. (Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon/CBC)

Step 1:

To dodge a snowplow scam, it's important to do your homework first and check a contractor's references.

"When somebody comes to your door offering any service, including this one, really taking that extra time to … doing your research before you sign a contract, before you hand over any money is particularly important."

Every year, people across Atlantic Canada are affected by scammers. (CBC)

Step 2:

If you don't have a service provider, he recommends asking family and friends who have received service from a particular company they were happy with.

Check a trusted source of information, such as ratings and reviews online, to verify you're dealing with a legitimate company.

If the promised service seems too good to be true, Moorhouse says, it probably is. (Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon/CBC)

Step 3:

Get quotes from multiple contractors.

"Don't just sign on with the first person who comes to your doorstep or the first person that you call," Moorhouse said.

Prefer companies that come to look at your property before providing a quote.

"It's not always, 'A driveway is worth this, a sidewalk is worth this,'" he said. "There are many things that can affect a price of snow removal." 

Watch for warning signs

People especially at risk of being scammed are those who have trouble shovelling their own driveways because of their age or mobility challenges. (Sheila Coles/CBC)

Although it's perfectly normal for a company to secure a deposit for snow removal services, a company looking for an entire season's payment upfront is "a bit of a red flag."

A price that seems too low should also set off alarm bells.

"Especially if they're saying, 'This will cover you, no matter how much snow we get. This is the flat rate.' We are not aware of companies that can offer that sort of cap on services."

With files from Information Morning Moncton