It’s frustrating enough to have to deal with damages caused by hail, heavy winds, blizzards or other natural disasters. The stress mounts when you have to juggle dealing with the insurance company, managing temporary living accommodations, and more.
You wouldn’t expect to be targeted for fraud in the wake of a jarring natural disaster, but the reality is that there is no shortage of fraudsters out there who are just waiting for the chance to separate you from your money through the use of deceptive practices aimed at ripping you off.
Unfortunately, thousands of people fall victim to home repair fraud every year. And, it’s not just the elderly or disadvantaged that are affected. Even the most cautious among us can be duped into paying more than we should for home improvements or paying up-front for work that never gets completed.
To protect yourself from dubious contractors who would like nothing more than to bilk you out of your hard-earned money, follow these steps.
Know the Warning Signs
As hard as they may try to stay ‘under the radar’, many home repair criminals go on the hunt for vulnerable, desperate homeowners who have recently had their property significantly damaged by weather events.
There are some warning signs to look out for when shopping for a reliable, trustworthy contractor to perform repair work on your home or commercial building.
Here are a few of them:
- Door-to-door canvassing. There’s nothing illegal or even wrong about going door-to-door to sell home repair services in the wake of a natural disaster. It’s entrepreneurial and opportunistic, and it also makes good business sense if you’re a contractor trying to drum up new jobs.However, keep in mind that the busiest, most acclaimed contractors in your area are likely too busy with existing projects to be walking around after a hurricane, knocking on doors and looking for new work. So, while it’s good to appreciate the initiative of a home repair salesperson, be highly skeptical of their timing when they come knocking!
- Requests for large cash deposits. Often, unscrupulous home improvement contractors will ask for a significant cash payment in advance of any work being completed. Sometimes, they’ll justify this request by stating that they’ll be ‘moonlighting’, or that accepting cash helps to keep their fees lower.The Federal Trade Commission suggests using protected financing like consumer credit lines or lender services for payment in these cases. And, you should never pay more than 30% of the total cost of a project before work begins.
- Lower pricing using ‘surplus’ materials. Often, a tactic used by home improvement fraudsters involves convincing homeowners to choose them because they have the lowest price. And, the reason they give for having the lowest price is because they have extra ‘surplus’ material from a prior job.This is most likely a scam, as the prior customer who dealt with this contractor probably overpaid for their project, and now the contractor is trying to get even more money by getting you to pay them for the extra material.
In addition to watching out for these red flags, take the following steps to be proactive about choosing a reputable home repair contractor after a natural disaster:
- Ask for recommendations from friends, neighbors, or family members.
- Read online reviews about any contractor you might consider working with.
- Contact the Better Business Bureau for history on any contractor in your area.
- If you’re asked to get contracting permits on your own, choose another contractor.
- Insist that the contractor you’re considering provides you with recent, local references.
- Ask for a written contract prior to agreeing to any work, and read the fine print!
Also, never hesitate to get a second opinion, no matter how small the project may seem. You might be surprised to learn how much you could save. And, when a contractor knows that they are competing with other bids, they might even be more likely to ‘sharpen the pencil’ by offering a lower total project price. You never know until you ask!
Lastly, if you do believe you have been a victim of home repair fraud after a natural disaster, take action immediately. You do have options, and the Law Office of Matthew R. Osborne, PC is here to help guide you.
We recommend you document everything as much as you can, and then contact our offices to schedule a consultation. We’ll review your situation and advise you on next steps.