February 8, 2016 — Authorities in several mid-west counties in the U.S. are warning homeowners about men posing as lightning rod subcontractors who scheme unsuspecting victims into paying money for unsolicited repair work.
According to the St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office in Wisconsin, the fraudulent contractors operate the scam by targeting homes with lightning protection systems, telling the owners that it looks like they’ve been victims of a recent strike, and advising that their “lightning rods will be in need of replacement.” The fraudulent contractors then offer to handle the repairs on the spot or come back to perform them at a later time.
Targeted homeowners have reported hearing the men working on their roofs before coming back to collect payments. According to authorities, the fraudulent contractors aren’t actually doing proper repair work, if any at all. The scammers have also been known to prey on elderly residents; extorting over $3,750 from a 65-year-old woman and another $14,000 from an aging farmer, both residing in rural communities in Wisconsin.
Unfortunately, the marketplace is full of scammers inventing new tricks and schemes to rob unsuspecting consumers of their hard-earned money. To help protect homeowners from falling prey to a lightning rod scam, the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) is providing important tips and guidelines for consumers to keep in mind when hiring a lightning protection specialist:
- Be sure the contractor is listed with Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and holds certification with LPI. (It’s always a good idea to ask for UL-listing number and evidence of LPI credentials.)
- Ask for a written proposal and/or design detailing the job to be performed prior to agreeing to have any work performed. Check to be sure materials and methods will comply with U.S. Safety Standards for Lightning Protection Systems such as LPI-175, NFPA 780 and UL96/96A. (Make sure your contractor can cite these standards.)
- Check for industry affiliations with groups such as LPI, LSA, NFPA, UL and ULPA which are trusted trade organizations for lightning protection. Experience counts, so be wary of start-up companies or contractors offering a “price deal” to install, fix or repair lightning protection.
- Check references to find out if your contractor has experience working on high-profile projects i.e. historic structures, slate roofs, trees, etc.
- Ask for maintenance and close-out materials upon completion of the work.
- Walk away from high-pressure sellers who tell you that you must make a decision right away. When in doubt, contact www.bbb.org to locate your local Better Business Bureau to obtain a reliability report for a contractor before you hire.
Lightning protection installation is a specialty discipline, so homeowners should not assume that roofers, general contractors or electricians are qualified to install lightning protection systems. If your home is equipped with corrugated stainless steel tubing (CSST gas piping), you will also want to review applicable industry bonding and grounding recommendations with your lightning protection contractor. Finally, homeowners concerned about quality control can contact www.lpi-ip.com for affordable inspection options, as a third-party inspection of the lightning protection system can provide peace of mind and help ensure proper installation.
For more information on lightning protection or to obtain a list of certified contractors, visit the LPI website at www.lightning.org.