Indiana AG proposes home contractor registry

Indiana residents looking to hire contractors for home repair or remodeling projects would be able to search a state registry that's among a package of legislative proposals Attorney General Greg Zoeller said Tuesday he's supporting in an effort to boost consumer protections.

Zoeller said his office received about 930 consumer complaints last year about home repair and construction scams, ranking those as the third-largest number of complaints, behind the top category of questionable auto sales/car repairs and rip-offs involving retail sales.

In the legislative session that begins in January, Zoeller said he would lobby for a bill that would create a voluntary state registry for contractors to combat swindlers who prey on homeowners seeking repairs after storms or looking for someone to do their home-improvement projects.

That online registry would help consumers do their homework before they hire anyone, Zoeller said, because it would only list contractors who've posted performance bonds that can pay consumer claims related to disputed or shoddy work.

"Most of the good players in the contractor business — the home repair companies — already have bonds. You see it in their advertisements. To post that with our office gives us an opportunity to list those people," he said during a news conference.

Tim Maniscalo, the president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Central Indiana, joined Zoeller at the news conference. He said his group received more than 130,000 inquiries last year about home improvement scams and general contractors, and that those accounted for about eight out of 10 of consumer inquiries.

"There's a tremendous amount of interest in this. People want to know who they're dealing with," he said.

Steve Baker, the Midwest regional director for the Federal Trade Commission, warned during the news conference that the nation is rife with consumer fraud schemes perpetrated by scammers looking for easy marks.

He said a recent national telephone survey found that 10 percent of the adult U.S. population said they had been scammed in the previous 12 months through some sort of fraud scheme.

"We are awash in a sea of fraud. There is so much fraud out there that I wouldn't believe it if I didn't do this for a living," Baker said.

Zoeller said he also plans to support legislation targeting illegal or unfair debt-collection practices. That bill would require those individuals to immediately identify themselves as a debt collector and, as is often the case, to disclose from whom that debt was purchased.

Yet another bill Zoeller said he'll support would extend protections approved last year for senior citizens to veterans, the spouses of deceased veterans and the disabled.

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