Many recent news stories have chronicled homeowner's problems with contractors who have taken their money and either never shown up or walked off the job before it was completed. How do you protect yourself? While no system is foolproof, the following guidelines are helpful. Under Illinois law, all contracts for significant projects must be in writing. Also, the general contractor must give disclosures required by the Illinois Home Repair and Remodeling Act. If these two things are not presented to you, odds are your contractor is a fly by night who should be avoided. Check with the Better Business Bureau for complaints against the company and its principals. Several web sites are available that let you conduct background checks for a modest fee. Look for a history of judgments, bankruptcies or restarting new companies after one has failed. Always, always, ask for references and check them thoroughly. Finally, be leery of anyone who insists on all or most of the funds for the project being paid up front. Well established contractors have good credit histories with their suppliers and subcontractors. This allows them to defer payment until after the job is completed to your satisfaction.