Better Business Bureau says don’t get fleeced by winter scams

This is the time of year when fraudsters turn up the heat as winter begins.

Scammers and shoddy business owners have a track record of swooping in to rip off consumers with various cold-weather scams.

Clever con artists will attempt to steal your money, identity, and even personal possessions if granted access to your home.

Scammers quickly offer various services, including energy audits, winter insulation offers, snow removal services, and furnace inspections this time of year. Be especially alert to anyone who shows up at your door or sends unsolicited emails, texts, or calls. In many cases, homeowners are offered winter services and then encounter demands for payment upfront or are pressured to sign agreements on the spot. You can leave scammers out in the cold by turning down the high-pressure offers and insisting on doing your research.

When your area gets a significant snowstorm, scammers might offer roof cleaning, shoveling, and plowing services, take your money, and disappear into the frosty air. Always check a company’s background before signing up for snow-clearing services; start with before checking out reviews and asking for references.

Another ruse is using freezing temperatures as their hook; con artists will masquerade as representatives from a utility company and ask to come inside your home. They may check a problem and demand money for a “supposed” past-due bill. However, Illinois utility companies are prohibited from shutting off service during inclement weather, meaning anyone threatening to disconnect you isn’t connected with your utility company. Contact your utility company directly, using the customer service number listed on your bill if you are concerned about an overdue bill.

BBB has tips to find reputable contractors for furnace maintenance or repair and to avoid becoming a scam victim:

Along with checking a business’s track record on BBB and other review sites, search online for the contractors’ name plus the term “scam.” Never sign or pay anything before doing your research.

Always pay bills with a credit card, which provides more protection than debit cards, cash, or instant transfer methods. No legitimate company will ever ask you to pay a bill through gift cards. We always advise getting a minimum of two quotes for any work that needs to be done; asking for references is also a great practice.

If there is a considerable expense involved, get every detail and warranty information on paper, and know that Illinois state law requires a contract for any project costing more than $1,000.

Lastly, but certainly not least, only let people inside your home after you have thoroughly checked their background and discussed it with trusted neighbors or family. With these tips, you can ensure your winter wonderland doesn’t become a nightmare.

Steve J. Bernas is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau and can be reached at

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