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A.G. Schneiderman: Snow Removal Service Owner Barred from Requiring Customers To Pre-Pay; Issues Tips For Consumers to Avoid Getting Scammed

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that a consent order and judgment has been obtained against Thomas J. Zackoski for taking thousands of dollars from consumers in five New York counties for seasonal snow ...

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Syracuse, NY - September 29, 2015 - Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that a consent order and judgment has been obtained against Thomas J. Zackoski for taking thousands of dollars from consumers in five New York counties for seasonal snow removal services that he failed to provide in the 2014-2015 winter season. Mr. Zackoski purported to do business under various different names, including Zackoski’s Snow Removal Services, SR & LM Specialists, Cortland Lawn & Landscaping, Z’s Snow Removal Services, Z’s Plowing Services, Plowscapes and Ryder Plowscapes.

“Unfortunately, as winter approaches and snow begins to fall, dishonest business owners can take advantage of those in need of vital services,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “Consumers should ask important questions of snow removal contractors to ensure they’re getting a quality service from a reputable provider. My office will keep working to root out fraud and hold unscrupulous business owners accountable.”

Most consumers contacted Mr. Zackoski after reading his postings on Craigslist.  Consumers made arrangements via email to personally meet him and sign a seasonal contract.  Mr. Zackoski’s contracts appeared to be very thorough; he claimed to have had 12 snowplows and trucks and 4 additional trucks with snowblowers and he promised to provide snow removal services up to 3 times a day, if necessary.  At least 51 consumers pre-paid Mr. Zackoski amounts ranging from $150-$400 for snow removal services they did not receive. 

The Attorney General’s Office filed a lawsuit against Mr. Zackoski after numerous consumers filed complaints stating that nobody had shown up to plow their driveways. Consumers reported that Mr. Zackoski provided phony excuses, via text and email, explaining why he was unable to plow.

The Consent Order and Judgment prohibits Mr. Zackoski from owning or operating any business in NYS, including snow removal services, that requires receipt of advance payments from consumers, and requires that he pay restitution to victims, as well as civil penalties and costs totaling $4,000 to the State of New York.

In addition to the Attorney General’s civil prosecution, Mr. Zackoski was criminally prosecuted by the District Attorneys in Onondaga, Tompkins, Monroe, Oneida and Oswego counties. Restitution was paid to a number of victims in connection with these cases.  Nineteen additional consumers received full refunds in connection with the Attorney General’s civil prosecution.  

The Attorney General's office recognizes that most snowplowing and snow removal service owners and operators are honest, but consumers should ask questions to avoid potential problems. Consumers should take the following precautions when hiring contractors for snow removal to help protect themselves from fraud:

  • Obtain several quotes for snow plowing services. This will give consumers a good sense of the range of prices currently being offered. 
  • Don't accept a quote simply because it's the lowest.  If a quote is very low, the contractor may run out of money before the winter season is over or the contractor may not have money to pay for repairs when a vehicle breaks down.  
  • Use a contractor that has been in business for a few years or that comes recommended by friends and neighbors.  The winter season brings out many people who decide to get into the snowplowing business.  New businesses may have the best of intentions, but may not have the necessary experience. 
  • Check to see if your local government requires snow plow contractors to be licensed. If so, use a contractor who is licensed. 
  • Use a contractor who is insured and has proof of insurance. 
  • Check for complaints with the Better Business Bureau
  • Pay one half of the contract at the beginning of the season, and one half at the end to help ensure that services promised will be provided. 
  • Pay by check so you have proof of payment. 
  • Get a signed contract that has the name, address (do not accept a post office box) and telephone number of the snowplow operator.  The contract should spell out how much snow must fall before the operator is required to plow your driveway.
  • Obtain proof of identity of the contractor.  Ask to see the contractor’s driver's license and copy down the address and identification number. 
  • Copy down the license plate number of the vehicle that plows your driveway. 
  • If you have special requirements, spell it out in the contract (for example, if you are an emergency responder who must have your driveway plowed by 7:00 a.m. to get to work, make sure it is in the contract). 

If you suspect you’ve been a victim of fraud, please contact Attorney General Schneiderman’s Consumer Fraud Helpline at 1-800-771-7755.

This case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Judith Malkin of the Syracuse Regional Office with the assistance of Investigator Andrea Buttenschon and Consumer Frauds Representative Jean Ryan.  Ed Thompson is Assistant Attorney General in Charge of the Syracuse Regional Office and Martin J. Mack is the Executive Deputy Attorney General for Regional Affairs.