ITHACA, N.Y. — A man who used a snowplow business to con people out of thousands of dollars in five New York counties, including Tompkins County, is repaying his debts and facing new restrictions, officials say.

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Thomas J. Zackoski, 28, of Liverpool, was sentenced in June to six months in jail and was order to pay back $3,500, plus fines, to people in Onondaga County, according to Syracuse.com  He also faced charged in Oneida, Oswego, Monroe and Tompkins counties.

At least 51 customers paid Zackoski $150 to $400 for snow removal services they did not receive, according to a news release by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office.

The release states that  Zackoski used several different business names to operate under, 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.

A Consent Order and Judgment now prohibits Zackoski from owning or operating any business in New York that requires advance payments from consumers. He is also required to pay restitution to victims and civil penalties totaling $4,000 to the State of New York.

“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 in a news release. “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.”

The attorney general’ office recommended the following tips to prevent fraud while hiring a snowplow service:

  • Obtain several quotes for snowplowing 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 snowplow 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: www.bbb.org.
  • 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).

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Jolene Almendarez

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.