How did a Chesterfield, Virginia couple turn $ 800 into more than $ 5,000 in just a few months?

This is not a story of a $ 5,000 salary, but of a loss. They hired Thomas Ray Lee, a man who pretended to be a licensed contractor, to repair their deck for $ 800.

According to the victims, Lee was a kind speaker. “He (Lee) called and told me he thought the deck boards were dry rotten and I might need a brand new deck with new boards.”

According to Alicia Reed, the victim, what was once small, costing $ 800, soon turned into an investment of $ 4,300. She sent the fraud contractor $ 3,000 in two separate Venmo payments. Lee started the project by dismantling the deck. Shortly afterwards, he stated that he was injured in a car accident, and canceled the project. Not only did he stop the project, he also stopped answering her calls and texts. Unfortunately, he also did not return the money. Reid spent an additional $ 1,200 to repair Lee’s damage. “So we’re looking for $ 5,000, we’re now because of this guy,” Reed said.

Other victims have come forward, and there are now three unexecuted arrest warrants for Thomas Ray Lee.

Recognizing a shadow contractor is often not difficult. For example, Reid said she should have been alarmed if the receipts did not indicate the company addresses he gave her. Another of Lee’s victims said she had to realize something was wrong when a contractor showed up at her home on Uber.

Here are some other signs of contractor fraud and what to do to avoid becoming a victim:

• Require a written bid and get a written contract before you pay the money and before you start work. The contract should include a detailed description of the work, material costs, start and end dates and any information about the warranty.

• Never pay the full amount in advance and do not pay only in cash. Contractors should not ask for more than 10-15% of the total project volume before starting. Agree on payment as work is completed. Before you pay the completed amount, make sure the work is completely done according to your standards and meets all the codes.

• If a contractor does not pay their suppliers for building materials, these suppliers may come after you for these materials. Indicate in the contract a stipulation that you must not pay the contractor until the suppliers of the materials have been paid.

• Insist on seeing links. Ask ex-clients detailed questions, including whether the project was completed on time and whether there were any unexpected costs.

• Get multiple bets, but do not automatically accept the lowest bet. Competition is fierce, and some contractors use substandard materials and cut corners to give a lower bid. Also, ask friends and relatives if they can recommend a reputable contractor.

• Before signing a contract, call us at the Better Business Bureau to find out the contractor’s rating and any complaints registered against them. Our number is 419-223-7010.

• Never agree to obtain the necessary building permits yourself. It is the responsibility of the contractor.

• Do not allow the contractor to arrange financing for you. Fraudulent contractors often negotiated for the lender to pay them directly, giving them little incentive to finish the job or do it properly.

There are many reputable contractors in our area who do a great job at a fair price. Following the above tips will help you find them and not fall victim to fraud.

Reagan Winkler is the executive director of the Better Business Bureau, which serves West Central Ohio. The BBB can be found online at

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