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May 24, 1999

State alerts homeowners about repair scam

TUMWATER -- Washington residents are urged to be wary of a father-son team that apparently is targeting senior citizens for fraudulent construction and home-repair work.

The state Department of Labor & Industries says the team has been involved with scams recently in Thurston and Lewis counties. The men have allegedly bilked several homeowners for thousands of dollars of unnecessary home repairs. The men go by the names of Donald Ball Sr. and Donald Ball Jr.

Donald Ball Sr. also uses several aliases.

Such scams are popular during the spring and summer as homeowners fix up their dwellings.

"Horror stories are common about people who become victims of unregistered contractors," said Dennis Yonker of Labor & Industries' contractor compliance program.

The department and the Thurston County Sheriff's Office said the Balls target unsuspecting senior citizens by soliciting work door-to-door. The typical jobs they urge homeowners to pay for are roof cleaning and repair, roof sealing, painting, pest control, construction of wheelchair ramps and fixing cracks in driveways. One woman paid more than $14,000 for work done between October 1998 and May 3, 1999.

The Balls present business cards imprinted with what looks like a Better Business Bureau logo and a toll-free telephone number -- 800-689-7394 -- which has been disconnected. They have also used multiple birth dates and several Social Security numbers as identification.

The Thurston County Prosecutor's Office recently charged Donald Ball Sr. with first-degree theft and forgery. He was held in the Thurston County Jail from April 19 to May 14. He gained released after posting $25,000 bail.

Labor & Industries also issued a $1,000 non-criminal infraction in April against Donald Ball Sr. for failing to register as a contractor in Washington. The department, which oversees contractor registration in the state, sent the citation to Ball while he was in jail.

State law requires contractors to register with L&I as a means of consumer protection. As a condition of registration, contractors must show they are bonded and insured.

Unregistered contractors do not offer this protection.

To avoid scams, the department offers these tips before a person hires a construction contractor:

  • Try to get at least three written bids before signing a contract. If you sign a contract, make sure you understand its terms.
  • Ask for and check references.
  • Be wary of contractors who ask you to pick up the local building permit - a sign that they might not be registered and do not want to show their faces at city hall or the county building department. Building departments will not issue a permit to a contractor unless the builder provides evidence of active registration.
  • Check if a contractor is registered by using the Internet to access L&I's contractor registration database at www.lni.wa.gov/contractors/contractor.asp

The free database is updated nightly. Users can look up a contractor by business name, owner's name, registration number, uniform business identifier or by city and find out the status of the contractor's registration. It shows bonding information and indicates whether there has been any complaint activity on record with county court systems.

The database also can be used to verify the certification of individual plumbers and electricians.

The department publishes a brochure, Before Hiring a Contractor that is available at its local service locations and on the L&I Internet site: www.lni.wa.gov/contractors

For more information, contact the nearest L&I office or call the contractor toll-free contractor hotline number 1-800-647-0982. Information is also available from the state attorney general's office of consumer protection at 1-800-551-4636.

Individuals may also contact: Terry Kleier, L&I construction compliance inspector, 360-902-4746

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