Elder Fraud

Frank and Suzanne are fiscally cautious and savvy, yet they somehow managed to fall victim to a young man with a track record of scamming seniors in central Illinois over home repair work.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s web site warns that seniors are prime targets for home repair rip-offs, especially by people going door-to-door.

That’s what happened to Frank and Suzanne on a snowy, cold day in January.

Frank had worked as a union man for 41 years. He’s now 78 and his wife is 65. They both have health problems. But when their son’s wife was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy and their son lost his job in Florida, they purchased an older home in central Illinois so their son and daughter-in-law could move back to the Peoria area.

Frank and his son were standing in the driveway of the home looking at all the exterior repairs that needed to be done when a man who said he lived nearby walked up the driveway to talk with them.

He gained their trust. And their money: $37,666.50.

After paying for a new roof, siding and windows, Frank began to worry.

“It was stupid on my part,” he said recently. “It’s a mess. The repairs have to be done all over again. Two contractors who looked at the job didn’t want to take it on. The roof is crooked.”

The contractor hired for the job was Christopher Lee Evans, owner of CNM Home Improvements, who has multiple complaints and convictions against him. Attempts to reach him for comment were unsuccessful. The Greater Peoria Better Business Bureau ranks CNM Home Improvements D-minus.

After more than four decades as a member of the Graphic Arts Communication Union, Frank recently saw his pension slashed due to fiscal problems with the pension fund.

“Now this,” he said. “Sure we want our money back, but we also want people to know what this man is doing. Four or five different people who have been taken in by this guy have spoken with me about this.”

Frank contacted attorney Don Jackson who had represented his union at Fleming-Potter company.

Jackson went out to the house, inspected the repairs and filed a complaint against Christopher Evans with Peoria County State’s Attorney Jerry Brady.

“This guy is ripping off senior citizens and getting away with it,” Jackson said.

After reviewing the case, Jerry Brady determined that the case may constitute a civil case against Evans but not a criminal case. When payment is made and no work is done, those cases are more clearly criminal, Brady said in a letter to Jackson. When repair work is done but installation is poor, charges are more difficult to prove, the letter stated.

Frank is frustrated by that decision. While he acknowledges he was not cautious enough about checking the contractor’s record, he’s concerned about the increasing number of people targeting seniors.

“We can’t give up fighting this,” Frank said. “Senior citizens need to be protected from this kind of fraud.”

Jessica Tharp, CEO of the Greater Peoria Better Business Bureau, said, “The average home improvement job costs several thousand dollars. Doing a little research will help in the long run.”

She said many senior citizens prefer to do business based on a handshake, but that can leave them vulnerable to being targeted and exploited.

She recommends: Get three estimates for the job you want done; Call the Better Business Bureau for a free report on the contractors; Get the agreement for the work to be done and the price in writing.

The Better Business Bureau updates its reports annually. It also has a dispute resolution program available for no charge.

She said it’s easy to feel embarrassed when you’ve been scammed, but remember people who operate scams are very skilled at what they do. They come across as personal and helpful. A little research can avoid major problems down the road.

Clare Howard

Clare Howard is the editor of the Community Word. She can be reached at communityword@yahoo.com

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