MONTREAL—Montrealers are advised to remain vigilant and not to be fleeced by renovators who promise to do work and ask for a down payment. In many cases, they take down payments and simply disappear into thin air.

Emmanuela Pepe helps her daughter out by looking after her six month old grandson, but she can't keep up the exterior of her house on her own. So when a workman came to the door last summer, offering to fix her gutters, she agreed.

“He did the gutters and after I paid him,” said Emmanuela Pepe.

The renovator then asked if he could come back to do some of the roofing work over a piece of the veranda in her backyard.

“The man, Serge from Gouttieres Unik, gave her a quote for $400. She paid him up front and he promised to return the next day to fix the roof. Three months later, she's still waiting,” said Dr. Carmela Pepe, Emmanuela’s daughter.

“He never showed up, never came to do the work. We’ve tried several times to contact him. He avoids all our phone calls. He never answers any calls that come from my phone or my mom's phone.”

Carmela says she reached him once and he agreed to reimburse her mother's $400. But when she went to the address he gave her, a woman answered and said no one from Gouttieres Unik lived or worked there.

“So this guy has just vanished. Basically, all we have is cellphone that he doesn't answer and we don't know how or where to find him,” said Carmela.

CTV Montreal also tried calling “Serge Venne” at the number on the receipt he gave Emmanuela and got an answering machine. According to Emmanuela, the voice matched the man who took her money.

An Internet search revealed a link to Alu-Rex, who told CTV Montreal that they only do business with Gouttieres Unik—they maintain they not the same company.

Carmela is sure her mother has been swindled by someone who preys on elderly vulnerable clients.

“It's just another example of perhaps elder abuse in a sense because this neighbourhood is filled with widows and widowers,” said Carmela.

According to Quebec’s consumer protection office, anyone who signs a contract with a client at their door is considered a door-to-door salesperson and requires a permit from them to operate. By law, door-to-door solicitors are not allowed to ask for a down payment, unless they leave material of equal value with their client.

“Me, I trusted them,” said Emmanuela, who admits she made a mistake and wanted to just chalk it up to a lesson learned. For her daughter however, if no one speaks up, fraudsters like this will just continue to find new victims.

“I think you just have to be very vigilant and protect your own interests,” said Carmela.