Contractor misrepresentations and fraud in advertising is common place, according to the Washington Attorney General.   As a retired real estate attorney I’ve known this for many years, and that’s why I provide consumers with free public information, such as this blog.   There are many great contractors out there, but consumers can get caught by fraudulent advertising if they are not careful.

Window sellers need to be transparent in their marketing. Roofers need to stay on top of the law. And home siding installers shouldn’t sidle up to consumers with inappropriately high-pressure sales pitches. That’s the gist of a letter sent Tuesday by the Washington Attorney General’s Office to more than 30 home remodelers around the state.

“We want the home remodeling industry to do a makeover on their bad sales practices,” said Assistant Attorney General Jack Zurlini, of the office’s Consumer Protection Division.

He said the letter is a general notice to educate businesses about unlawful practices, and doesn’t necessarily mean that recipients are breaking the law. In addition, the office is investigating several remodelers and recently reached a settlement with a Seattle-based window installer.

“If your business boasts bogus discounts, pressures consumers to buy immediately or exaggerates endorsements, stop now – or hire an attorney because you’ll probably be hearing from us in short order,” Zurlini warned.

“Bad actors give the industry a bum rap,” he added. “And that’s not fair to those who are doing the right thing. There are many good companies out there.”

Among the AG’s list of no-no’s:

  • Inflated retail prices and bogus discounts: Officially called “false reference pricing” under the law, this scheme has been illegal for more than 70 years. It occurs when companies misrepresent that consumers are buying at a substantially discounted price. Companies try to conceal their scheme by having consumers agree to do just about anything to “earn” the bogus discounts, such as posting a sign in their yard.
  • High-pressure sales: Consumers are told that if they don’t buy now, the price will be higher in the future. Sometimes companies use scare tactics such as exaggerating the dangers posed by a small amount of mold found around a window. Sales pitches last for hours or are scheduled late at night so consumers are worn down and say “yes” just to get the sales person out of their home.
  • Fraudulent endorsements: Companies exaggerate awards or Better Business Bureau ratings to appear better than their competitors. Some fabricate endorsements or testimonials.

Consumers who believe they may be a victim of such illegal practices may file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office. Complaints can be filed online at www.atg.wa.gov or request a complaint form by calling the Consumer Resource Center at 1-800-551-4636 between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays.

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