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Frank Gray

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Repair needs pave way for conning crews

A woman named Deb Cooper called the other day hopping mad.

It seems a group of men who said they were with a company called Huntington Asphalt had encountered her father in his driveway, told the senior citizen they had some extra asphalt on hand and talked him into letting them do some work.

Cooper’s father had a cement driveway with some cracks that he wanted repaired.

A skim coat of cement is what he wanted.

The asphalt workers told him their asphalt had cement in it and it would turn white when it dried.

Next thing you know the workers were paving his drive in asphalt. When they were done, two of the men insisted on accompanying Cooper’s father to the credit union, where he withdrew $3,500 to pay them.

One of the men even took his receipt and refused to give it back to him.

Whether Cooper’s father was ripped off is open to debate. It cost him $3,500, which might be overpriced, but he did get his driveway paved in a layer of asphalt that appears to be about an inch thick. How good a job they did isn’t clear. I’m not a paving expert. How long it will hold up remains to be seen.

But Cooper, who doesn’t want her father named so he won’t be targeted again, was outraged enough at what happened that she called the police and then Huntington Asphalt to complain.

“Wait a minute,” Huntington Asphalt owner Gregg Ness told her. His company was busy on a commercial paving job. They never touched her father’s drive.

It turns out that at least one of the trucks that the crew had at Cooper’s father’s house had Kentucky license plates, so the men might have been from out of state.

I called Ness and asked him whether he was concerned that there were people out there using his company’s name.

Well, Ness said, it happens a number of times every year. It’s been happening since he started his business 25 years ago, and there’s nothing he can do about it. Crews like the one that showed up at Cooper’s father’s house are travelers.

“They’re probably a hundred miles away now,” Ness said.

No respectable contractor does business by knocking on doors, Ness said. These traveling groups, though, are excellent salesmen. They could talk anyone into buying anything, he said. They’ll start out by asking an outrageous price and then drop the price to make you think you’re getting a good deal.

The line they use – that they have some asphalt left over from another job – is nonsense, Ness said. Legitimate contractors never buy more than they need. Asphalt is too expensive.

The traveling crews, Ness said, will buy a truckload of asphalt for cash in the morning and park it in a shopping center while men in pickup trucks with CB radios roam the city scouting for jobs. The elderly, especially elderly women, are their favorite targets.

“It’s like fishing,” Ness said.

When they catch one, everyone converges on the target, and everything is cash.

So how do you avoid getting stung?

“Always get three estimates,” Ness said.

If you say you want to get other quotes, he said, “they won’t stick around.”

For his part, Ness said, “I don’t knock on doors.”

People call him, he provides estimates, and if a customer accepts the bid, a date is set for the job. And he doesn’t get paid until the job is done and the customer is happy.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter (@FrankGrayJG).

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