A.G. Underwood Sues Rochester Home Improvement Contracting Business For Defrauding Consumers Through Fake Online Reviews, Failure To Perform Work 

News from the New York Attorney General's Office

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 13, 2018

Attorney General's Office Press Office / 212-416-8060
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A.G. UNDERWOOD SUES ROCHESTER HOME IMPROVEMENT CONTRACTING BUSINESS FOR DEFRAUDING CONSUMERS THROUGH FAKE ONLINE REVIEWS, FAILURE TO PERFORM WORK 

A-S Contracting’s Operators Alvis Sprague and Sarah Crawford Are Immediately Banned from Operating a Home Improvement Business in NY

A.G. Underwood Seeking $52,000 In Consumer Restitution and $50,000 in Cost and Penalties, Plus Permanent Ban in NY 

ROCHESTER – Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood today announced a lawsuit against Rochester-based home improvement contracting business operators Alvis Sprague and Sarah Crawford and their company A-S Contracting for deceptive online advertising and failing to perform the services they promised to consumers. Monroe County Supreme Court issued a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order that immediately bans Crawford and Sprague from operating a home improvement business in New York and freezes their assets while the lawsuit is pending. 

“Consumers deserve to know that they can trust online reviews – not be deceived by the company itself,” said Attorney General Underwood. “Companies that seek to deceive New Yorkers will be held accountable by my office.”

The lawsuit alleges that Sarah Crawford and Alvis Sprague used fake reviews on YellowPages.com and Yelp to promote their business, A-S Contracting. Sprague and Crawford allegedly gave A-S Contracting 5-star reviews and encouraged their friends to do the same, so the business would appear to provide better service than it actually gave. This sort of deceptive and misleading conduct is commonly known as “Astroturfing,” where comments and reviews are posted as though they come from consumers, but are in fact created by the entity seeking support. Some consumers hired A-S Contracting because of the false reviews they saw online.

The Attorney General’s lawsuit also alleges that Sarah Crawford and Alvis Sprague repeatedly and persistently defrauded consumers in the Rochester area by receiving full or partial payments for home improvement projects, but failing to perform any work or –  when work was performed –  doing in a shoddy and unprofessional manner. Consumers who requested or were promised refunds did not receive them. Sprague allegedly took deposits for home improvement work and spent the money at casinos, including more than $80,000 in 2017 at venues in Niagara Falls, Verona, and Waterloo, New York; Erie, Pennsylvania; and Little River, South Carolina. 

The Attorney General is seeking a permanent injunction against Crawford and Sprague that will bar them from ever operating a home improvement business in New York State. The lawsuit also seeks $52,000 in restitution for defrauded consumers and $50,000 in costs and penalties.

The accusations are merely charges and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law. 

When planning to use a home improvement contractor, consumers should consider the following tips:

  • Never agree to have work done on the spot, especially when potential contractors are marketing door-to-door.
  • Determine exactly what you want done, then look for a qualified contractor.
  • Shop around; get at least three estimates from reputable contractors that include specific information about the materials and services to be provided.
  • Ask for references: check with the Better Business Bureau, banks, suppliers, and neighbors.
  • Always contact any references provided to you.
  • Insist on a written contract that includes the price and description of the work needed.
  • Do not pay unreasonable advance sums; negotiate a payment schedule tied to the completion of specific stages of the job.
  • Never pay the full price up front.
  • Remember that you have three days to cancel after signing a home improvement contract, but all cancellations must be in writing.

Additional information on how to avoid fraudulent home improvement scams can be found on the Attorney General’s website.

Consumers who believe they may have been defrauded or have unresolved disputes with a home improvement contractor are encouraged to call the Attorney General’s consumer hotline at (800) 771-7755.

The case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Benjamin A. Bruce. The investigation is being handled by Investigator Jessica Holland and Senior Consumer Frauds Representative Emily Brightman of the Rochester Regional Office which is led by Assistant Attorney General-in-Charge Ted O’Brien. The Rochester Regional Office is a part of the Division of Regional Offices, which is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General for Regional Affairs Marty Mack.