BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced a temporary restraining order against Phillip Fox, a Western New York home improvement contractor, Wednesday after Fox allegedly scammed dozens of customers.
Court papers show Fox collected thousands of dollars for home repairs that he never provided, according to Schneiderman's office.
In addition, the petition claims that when Fox did do the work he promised, it was poorly done. He also allegedly targeted the elderly with outrageous prices for unnecessary work.
“To defraud hardworking New Yorkers who are seeking a home improvement contractor is illegal and wrong, but to deliberately target the elderly when scamming consumers is reprehensible,” Schneiderman said. “We will keep working to ensure that fraudulent home contractors who prey on unsuspecting New Yorkers will be held accountable.”
The court has agreed with Schneiderman's request to immediately freeze Fox's bank accounts. This prevents Fox from accepting advance customer payments while he is in court.
A lawsuit is also seeking customer refunds and civic penalties for Fox's violations.
In addition, the attorney general's office is trying to obtain a court order that would prevent Fox from working in home improvement unless he provides a $250,000 bond.
According to the attorney general, in one case, Fox preyed on two elderly sisters. One of the sisters is 85 and legally blind and the other is 88. Fox first offered snow plowing services, then charged more than $80,000 from the sisters for work he has not yet done or that does not need to be done. Fox charged the sisters $7,390 just to power wash and stain their fence and apply a sealer, for example. He also charged them $3,410 to install a basement door.
In another example, when a customer agreed to pay Fox $8,500 to replace his garage and driveway floor, Fox simply ripped out the concrete and left the project unfinished.
When the customer called Fox to ask about the unfinished work, Fox said he needed $2,100 just to deliver the crushed stone, the attorney general said.
Fox delivered the stone then said he needed $3,000 to pour the concrete, a task he never completed.
Fox's work was also inadequate and the customer had to pay $6,000 to fix the initial work and have the concrete poured.
Customer names have not been provided.
Those with complaints against Fox are asked to contact the Attorney General's consumer help line at 800-771-7755 or his Buffalo Regional Office at 716-853-8404.
Schneiderman has recommendations for consumers when dealing with contractors to avoid getting ripped off.
His advice includes:
- Never agreeing to have work done on the spot
- Asking for references before hiring a contractor, such as by checking with the Better Business Bureau, banks, suppliers and neighbors
- Shopping around by getting at least three estimates from respected contractors that include specific information about materials and services that the contractor would provide;
- Always insisting on a written contract which includes the price and description of necessary work;
- Negotiating a payment schedule connected to a contractor completing specific tasks,
- Never paying the full price of a contractor's work upfront; and
- Keeping in mind that you have three days to cancel after signing a contract, but all cancelations must be made in writing.
Assistant Attorney General James Morrissey and Karen Davis, Senior Consumer Fraud Representative in the Buffalo Regional Office, assisted in handling Fox's case.