CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KWWL) -- A Montana man is facing charges of First Degree Theft as part of a derecho repair scam in which he stole nearly $20,000 from a Cedar Rapids man.
William Hurlbut, 56, of Belgrade, Montana was arrested in Johnson County Monday night on a warrant issued by Cedar Rapids Police and the Linn County Attorney’s Office. The warrant had been issued for his arrest last Friday.
Investigators say the victim, a 56-year-old man filed the theft report with CRPD on December 1, 2020. He said he signed a contract with Hurlbut on September 12, 2020 with the agreement Hurlbut would repair the roof and siding of the victim’s home in southeast Cedar Rapids.
Two days after signing the contract, the victim gave Hurlbut $5,287 in cash as a down payment. Less than two weeks later, he gave Hurlbut an additional $4,600 in cash as an additional down payment. Between the end of September and the beginning of November, the victim contacted Hurlbut several times asking when the work would begin. Hurlbut allegedly gave several excuses for not beginning the repairs.
The victim also provided a blank check made out to a hardware store that was to be used to purchase roofing and siding materials. However, Hurlbut allegedly bought personal items with a portion of the check. In addition, he supposedly scheduled delivery dates for materials to be delivered to the victim’s home, but the items were never delivered. Hurlbut allegedly returned some items for cash or store credit.
Police say over the past six months, no repairs were made, no materials were delivered, and no building permits were obtained.
Cedar Rapids Police and the Iowa Attorney General's Office are offering tips to avoid contract scams like these:
- Be wary of contractors who show up at your door. If possible, deal with an established and reputable local business. Avoid the hard sell. A reputable company should always be willing to allow a customer time to think about an offer before having to commit to a contract or payment.
- Check out and interview contractors before you sign a contract or pay any money. Request local references and contact them, and research their ratings with the Better Business Bureau and other sites.
- Get several written estimates, choose the best, and get a contract in writing. Be sure to read and understand the contract. Before work begins, agree on a written contract detailing terms including the work to be done, the brand and/or the specifications of the materials to be used, the price, who is responsible for permits, and that all change orders must be in writing. Put start and completion dates in writing, and the remedies if the contractor fails to meet them.
- Understand your insurance: If you’re filing an insurance claim to cover the costs of damages, negotiate the details with your insurance company directly and not through a contractor. Make sure your insurance provider will cover the cost of repairs before you sign a contract.
- Explore financing options: It’s usually safer and a better deal to obtain financing through your local bank or credit union, rather than a contractor.
- Know your right to cancel: If you sign a contract somewhere other than the contractor's regular place of business, such as at your home, you have three business days to cancel the contract without penalty.
- Avoid paying large sums or the entire job up front. If you need to make a partial advance payment for materials, make your check out to the supplier and the contractor. Insist on a "mechanic's lien waiver" in case the contractor fails to pay others for materials or labor.
- Write down a license plate number and vehicle description, or take a picture of the vehicle and plate. Keep this for your records.
To report a dishonest contractor, contact the Iowa Attorney General's Office at 1-888-777-4590 or 1-515-281-5926, or click here to file a consumer complaint.