Homeowners in super storm Sandy’s path are still assessing the damage, but scammers are already mulling ways to take advantage of vulnerable consumers.
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The Better Business Bureau is urging homeowners to be wary of “storm chasers” who work to take advantage of people in the aftermath of natural disasters.
“Expect to see plenty of them later this week as consumers and businesses assess the damage from Hurricane Sandy,” says the BBB. According to the agency, most of the scams will focus on auto, home and yard repairs and cleanup. To protect from becoming a victim of these scams, the BBB offers the following tips:
Be skeptical of unsolicited house calls. Evaluating and repairing damage should be an immediate concern, but if someone or a team shows up on your doorstep soliciting services at lower prices and a quicker turnaround time than others, don’t fall for it.
The BBB warns to be suspicious of workers that approach you claiming to have left-over materials from a nearby job or can’t provide a permanent place of business. Be especially skeptical of workers who show up at your house claiming the structure is unsafe. If you are concerned about structural damage, the BBB recommends getting an inspection from an engineer, architect or building inspector.
Be proactive, not reactive. In times of crisis the best defense from scammers is to stay calm and be proactive rather than reactive. Don’t be pressured into making an on-the-spot decision with long-term implications. Make temporary repairs if necessary and research and choose a company of your finding instead of going with a solicitation or sales call. “Although you may be anxious to get things back to normal, avoid letting your emotions get the better of you,” says the BBB.
Get multiple quotes. Before hiring a contractor for any repairs make sure to get at least three estimates and ensure the quotes are based on the same specifications and materials.
“Check references, verify licensing and registration, and read BBB Business Reviews at www.bbb.org,” says the BBB. “There are tens of thousands of home improvement and home repair contractors that are BBB Accredited Businesses and are committed to fair, honest and transparent business dealings with their customers.”
Don’t rely on handshake deals. Before hiring anyone, get a written contract that specifies exactly what work will be completed at what price and in what time frame.
The contract should also include a price breakdown of labor and materials. Always get proof of a current insurance certificate covering workman’s compensation, property damage and personal liability before starting any work.
Don’t pay with cash or before the work is complete. No matter how convincing or trustworthy the contractor seems, it’s never a good idea to pay in advance or to pay with cash, according to the BBB. If the company requests a deposit, don’t pay for more than one-third of the job upfront. Your contract should include a schedule for paying the contractor and before you make the final payment ask for proof that all the subcontractors have been paid. If they haven’t, you could be liable, according to the BBB.