‘Still too trusting’: Officials warn of surge in driveway paving scams

Suburban officials and the Better Business Bureau are warning of a surge in scammers swindling thousands of dollars from homeowners and leaving behind shoddy or nonexistent asphalt paving work on their driveways.

Their chief message: Residents’ skepticism is their best, if not only, protection against falling victim.

“We’re still too trusting,” said Steve Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago & Northern Illinois. “That’s a big part of it. And people never think it’s going to happen to them.”

Expert perpetrators work in ways that allow them to dodge criminal prosecution and ensure their fictitious companies cannot be found, said Prospect Heights Building & Development Director Dan Peterson.

“They know how to become, as I call them, ghosts,” he said. “You can’t find them and they know this.”

  A pile of broken asphalt rests at the end of a driveway at a home on Camp McDonald Road in Prospect Heights. It is an example of a new wave of driveway paving scams that is taking place throughout the suburbs. Joe Lewnard/

After noticing an increase last year, Peterson said the rise in paving scams picked up again last month, even before the region’s asphalt plants were open for the season.

And that’s why he’s urging homeowners to inform their municipality and their neighbors if they fall victim to or are approached by a potential scammer. One Prospect Heights resident who did just that saved three fellow homeowners thousands of dollars this spring, Peterson said.

In many instances, some work is performed in exchange for money collected upfront, but it’s often done as quickly as possible and with no knowledge of proper paving — including pouring asphalt directly over dirt or failing to smooth out the surface.

“When you look at the work they do, it’s just horrible,” Peterson said.

Prospect Heights has been targeted frequently by what seems to be the same crew. But through networks of local building officials, Peterson has learned of the same methods being applied in suburbs including Arlington Heights, Palatine, Hanover Park, Glenview, Round Lake Beach, Streamwood and Crystal Lake.

They’re towns with a wide variety of ages in their housing stock and where many asphalt driveways can be found, he noted.

  Dan Peterson, Prospect Heights building & development director, shows an example of a new wave of driveway paving scams that is taking place throughout the suburbs. Joe Lewnard/

On the scammers’ side is their professional, courteous manner and appearance. Another hook is their purported helpfulness in reaching out with a discounted offer since they are “already in the area.”

“You never do business with someone that just walks up to your house,” Bernas said. “You do your due diligence.”

Seniors often are targeted because they happen to be home more often, answer their phones, and remember a time when trust wasn’t so often punished, he added. But anyone, including new homeowners, can fall prey.

What may seem like a bona fide logo on a vehicle or business card won’t really offer any practical information about where a fake company is located, Peterson said. Scammers sometimes will adopt company names similar to those of legitimate businesses in the area, he added.

For victims, the losses don’t always end with the money paid to the con artists. After one Prospect Heights homeowner driveway and the public drainage ditch next to it were left damaged by contractors he paid $20,000, he must now pay another $6,000 to $8,000 just to return the property to its original condition.

  An unfinished walkway to a home on Camp McDonald Road in Prospect Height is an example of a new wave of driveway paving scams that is taking place throughout the suburbs. Joe Lewnard/

And because all such work requires a permit, officials sometimes have little choice but to also ticket the homeowner for not having one. Peterson said it tugs at his heartstrings to be confronted with such a situation involving elderly residents who’ve already been victimized.

“That’s what bugs me the most,” he said. “But I have to tell myself that they chose not to follow the rules and hired a contractor without getting a permit.”

  Poor workmanship on this driveway along Elm Street in Prospect Heights is an example of a new wave of driveway paving scams taking place throughout the suburbs. Joe Lewnard/

Prospect Heights Police Chief William Caponigro said there are sometimes two ways a scammer could face criminal charges: if it can be proved that a senior with diminished cognitive abilities is being taken advantage of, or if a written contract proves deception.

But normally neither exists, especially since most victims didn’t obtain a contract or permit. Caponigro said homeowners should see acquiring a permit as added protection, not government overreach.

Even if non-contracted, non-permitted work is caught in the act, it’s a civil matter for the building department, Caponigro said.

“Prevention is 100% the key,” he added. “When in doubt, call us.”

The BBB’s Bernas also stresses self-protection and research, including using the organization’s resources. Homeowners can search for paving companies in their area. And anyone who suspects they’ve been a victim of a contractor scam should report it to

“The scammers don’t care about the law,” Bernas said. “There’s not enough police in the world to help. You have to help yourself first. What puts scammers out of business is to not give them your business.”

The result of driveway damage caused by asphalt paving scammers at a home in Prospect Heights. Courtesy of Prospect Heights
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