Indiana AG Files Suit Against Alleged Landscaping Scammers

C&C Tree Service allegedly targeted seniors, demanding payment and then deliverying shoddy or nonexistent work.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller has filed a lawsuit against a group of alleged landscape and home repair scammers who have swindled at least nine Indianapolis-area senior citizens into paying thousands of dollars for projects that were overpriced, poorly completed or never completed.

Zoeller’s lawsuit against C&C Tree Service filed in Marion County court lists 14 individuals allegedly involved in perpetrating the scam, in which the defendants would go door-to-door offering a wide range of home repair services, demand payment and then deliver shoddy or nonexistent work. Repairs that were offered included tree trimming, tree removal, chimney services, driveway repairs and more.

According to the lawsuit, the defendants developed a pattern of targeting senior citizens. They advertised “discounts” to seniors, and then used multiple deceptive and illegal tactics to coax these individuals into doing business with them. Sometimes they would show up at an individuals’ home with no prior contact, “perform” a job and then demand payment after-the-fact. Other times they would simply charge people up-front for services they would then never perform. Most egregiously, one defendant changed the payment on a check received by a customer from $500 to $800 and quickly cashed it, and another defendant claimed to have lost a customer’s check and got the customer to write him a new one before cashing both.

In the worst case listed in the AG’s lawsuit, several of the defendants were involved in swindling one senior out of more than $30,000 over the course of a year for various home repairs, including tree trimming and chimney services that were never finished. There is no record that the defendants ever used written contracts in their business dealings.

Zoeller’s lawsuit alleges violations of Indiana’s Deceptive Consumer Sales Act, Home Improvement Contracts Act, Home Solicitation Sales Act and the Senior Consumer Protection Act. The lawsuit seeks civil penalties and restitution to the seniors allegedly victimized by the defendants.

“Home repair fraud continues to be one of the most common and, tragically, most successful scams perpetrated against Hoosiers,” Zoeller said. “People have to realize the risks they may be taking with contractors who come door-to-door and offer services right then and there. Though it may seem convenient to accept the first offer that comes your way, I urge you to do your homework and research a trusted company, get a written contract and do not pay in-full for the repairs until they are completed. Be particularly wary following seasonal storms, especially this winter and spring, when scammers are out in full force.”

More than 900 consumers filed complaints with the Attorney General’s Office in 2015 about home repair scams. The Office filed lawsuits against six other home repair companies in 2015 in addition to C & C Tree Service.

Tips to avoid being scammed

The Indiana Attorney General offers some tips to help homeowners avoid being scammed.

Get multiple price quotes from different contractors.

Check with the Better Business Bureau and the Attorney General’s Office to see if complaints have been filed against the contractor.

Check to make sure the contractor is locally licensed, bonded and insured. A performance bond provides the most direct protection for the consumer. Bonds that cover municipal code compliance may be helpful but would not offer direct monetary recovery for an aggrieved consumer.

Opt for the local, well-established contractor rather than the door-to-door ‘storm chaser.’

Get a contract in writing that details what work is to be done and when it will be finished.

If the contractor came to your door unsolicited, ensure you receive a notice from the contractor of your ability to cancel the contract within three days for a full refund before signing any contract.

Never pay for the entire project before the work begins. Do not pay more than a third of the total cost as a down payment.