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COUNTY CONSUMER PANEL ISSUES ALERT ON HOME-REPAIR SCAMS

'Tis the season for home-repair scams and financing schemes that can cost a homeowner dearly.

That was the message from a hearing Tuesday sponsored by the Erie County Consumer Protection Committee.

Along with the expected assortment of complaints about poor workmanship, consumers also need to be alert for some contractor-financing offers that can be expensive and eliminate the consumer's threat of withholding payment because the contractor already has his money.

Jethel Beckwith of Buffalo said she agreed to a $15,250 loan through a kitchen contractor. The finished work was worth only a fraction of that, she said. Now the lending company is trying to collect, and the matter is tied up in court.

Committee Chairman Charles Kreiner, who is in the investment business, said the money from the loan often goes directly to the contractor so the consumer loses the ability to withhold payment for unsatisfactory work and can be held liable for repayment by a lender the consumer didn't know he was dealing with.

County Executive Gorski said complaints over home-improvement work have increased 50 percent and noted the committee looks for ways to protect consumers.

Roofs were a popular complaint, and Deborah Patterson of Orchard Park said she is caught between a contractor and supplier who blame each other for the fact part of her roof blew off soon after it was installed in 1995.

The 19-member committee was formed in 1980, and one of its goals is to help educate consumers, Kreiner said. It offers a "Smart Contracting" audio tape or transcript by calling 858-8709.

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