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How you can avoid being a victim of an asphalt scam

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Beware of pitches from salesmen saying they have leftover product and can do a project at a steep discount. Asphalt cools in a matter of hours and turns to rock.

When Marty Hinrichs finished comforting a crying woman who had fallen victim to an asphalt scam, she decided she’d had enough.

With 15 years in the business of asphalt paving and seal coating, Hinrichs decided she needed to speak out to help others from falling prey to an asphalt paving scam.

"We have these companies that come in from out-of-state that claim they are going to give these homeowners asphalt, and in fact, they give them rock," said Hinrichs, an owner of M&M Construction and Cleaning Inc. "I am personally tired of it. Not because I own an asphalt company, but because I have to hug an elderly woman, crying ... and she has been scammed out of more than $8,000 and she can't afford to actually get a real driveway done. How does a person sleep at night?"

Olmsted County Sheriff’s Sgt. James Schueller said he has taken a number of complaints about asphalt scams. One such scam, Schueller said, is when a "contractor" comes to a door unsolicited, saying he were doing a job in the neighborhood and had too much product. He then offers a deal that’s too good to be true.

"Like the old saying goes, it usually is," Schueller said.

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Once a check or payment is handed over, the person either never comes back or returns and does substandard work.

"A reputable contractor in the area doing a job is going to have a pretty good read on how much material is going to be needed to complete the job for the customer," Schueller said.

Hinrichs agreed with that sentiment.

"You literally have hours before it cools," Hinrichs said of the 350-degree asphalt drivers pick up from the plant. "When those trucks come with asphalt — it is go time. It will set up in the back of your truck and become huge piles of rock." Hinrichs said that if someone shows up at your door with "leftover" asphalt from another job "they either screwed your neighbor or they are going to screw you."

Claims of "leftover asphalt" is also something the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota warns about.

"Be wary of paving companies stating they are ‘in the neighborhood’ and have extra asphalt at the ready to repair your driveway for a minimal cost," according to the BBB. "Professional asphalt contractors know, with great accuracy, how much paving material is needed to complete a project. They will rarely have leftover materials."

The BBB also cautions against high-pressure sales people and urges homeowners to never hire someone on the spot. "Trustworthy contractors provide a written estimate that will be valid for many days afterwards, or much longer," according to the BBB.

On the topic of contracts, Hinrichs said contracts should be descriptive and include the name and address of the business/person doing the work, how to contact them and a detailed outline of the work they will do as well as the price. A reputable contractor will meet a homeowner first, get a design plan, provide an estimate and be able to answer questions before signing a contract.

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The BBB recommends insisting on a written contract and then getting at least two more estimates before hiring a contractor.

Hinrichs urges people to warn their family and neighbors so they don't get taken. 

"Talk about it. Warn your community members, your family. This is someone's grandma. This is someone's mom. This is someone's dad," she said.

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