Unlicensed contracting is a criminal offense.

Having a backyard pool is a common dream for Florida homeowners. Unfortunately, that dream can quickly turn into a nightmare if the homeowner falls victim to contractor fraud.

Unlicensed contracting is a criminal offense, and consumers need to be wary of hiring someone who offers the fastest, cheapest job. Often the results are poor workmanship, inferior materials, and unfinished work. A licensed contractor is held to standards both locally and through state action.

Hillsborough County's Consumer Protection Services and Development Services offer 10 warning signs of contractor fraud.

10 Warning signs of pool contractor fraud

  1. Hillsborough County government does not market or promote third-party contractors. If you're sent something with the County logo or the marketing piece seems out of the ordinary, it's likely false. If you're unsure, call Hillsborough County's Consumer Protection to confirm if it's an official document.
  2. Is the person talking fast and almost a little too familiar for comfort? Scammers could use this strategy to gain your confidence to force an uninformed, quick decision. Contractors should be respectful and honor the same price later.
  3. Be wary if you're about to sign on the dotted line and the contractor tells you that payment must be made upfront, only in cash, or paid directly to another contractor or supplier - this could be fraud.
  4. Anything promised by the contractor should be in writing and signed by both parties.
  5. Sometimes you do have to make payments to the contractor in advance to help pay for materials, but it should never be large amounts of 50% of more. A 10% down payment is normal and should be plenty to cover what they need to get started.
  6. Do not make any payments until the contractor provides a Partial Release of Lien and Affidavit, and the homeowner should not make the final payment until a Final Release of Lien Affidavit is received from the contractor, which ensures subcontractors have been paid.
  7. If you receive a work estimate from a contractor that seems too low after comparing them to others, do extra research and collect referrals from other customers.
  8. If you find the contractor doesn't have basic information like their business address or contact information on their estimate, business card, vehicle, or marketing materials, the person may not be who you think they are.
  9. To verify if a local contractor is licensed in Hillsborough County, visit HillsGovHub and search for your contractor. To verify that a contractor's license is up to date in the state of Florida, visit the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) at MyFloridaLicense.com.
  10. Visit HillsGovHub portal, the County's online development permitting system, to view a company's permits to see how many they have and how many are opened or closed.

If a person falls victim to a scam, Consumer Protection can take a complaint from them for free and will assess it for additional action, either through the County or with local law enforcement or legal partners. Consumer Protection regularly works to get work completed in these types of cases or to get refunds issued in some cases.

If you think you've been a victim of fraud, Hillsborough County's Consumer Protection can help you figure out your next steps. For steps on how to report fraud, visit the  page or call (813) 635-8316.