HARRISBURGRep. Herry Knowles (R-Berks/Schuylkill) is reminding local residents to be cautious when hiring a contractor to perform repairs and renovations to their homes.

Knowles' office has recently received calls from local senior citizens who are concerned they are the victims of scams by contractors who took payment for services never performed, or who did not complete the work they were hired to do.

"Every year, thousands of Pennsylvanians file consumer complaints about home improvement contractors who take money and fail to perform satisfactory construction or repairs," Knowles said. "I strongly urge consumers to research a contractor before giving them money and allowing them to do any work."

According to Knowles, there are several measures consumers can take to protect themselves from disreputable or fraudulent contractors. Contractors who come to a home and point out specific problems should be met with caution, especially if they arrive in an unmarked vehicle and refuse to provide proof of insurance.

Additionally, consumers should ensure that the contractor can provide at least three or four references and is registered with the state and local government. In 2008, the Legislature passed the Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act. The law requires that all contractors who perform at least $5,000 worth of home improvements per year register with the state Attorney General's Office. A contractor's registration number must appear in any advertisement used by the contractor.

Before any work is done, consumers should obtain a written contract that includes a start and finish date for the project as well as a three-day right-to-cancel notice. Penalty clauses for late completion have also proven helpful.

Individuals should never sign a blank contract or hire a contractor that does not have business care with a local number and address. Final payments should be withheld until work is finished and homeowners are completely satisfied.

For more information on consumer protection and a list of registered contractors, visit the Pennsylvania Attorney General's website at http://www.attorneygeneral.gov/hic.aspx [1].