From press reports
May 2, 2014 – As Mississippi and Alabama dig out from last week’s tornadoes, President Barack Obama declared seven counties damaged by the storms, federal disaster areas. This will allow individuals and local governments in those counties to get aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for things like temporary housing and rebuilding.
Homeowners who must rebuild on their own are advised by The National Center for the Prevention of Home Improvement Fraud (NCPHIF), a national nonprofit, to protect themselves from becoming victims of home repair contractor fraud.
“Disaster/storm victims are especially vulnerable to contractor fraud,” says NCPHIF Executive Director Phae Moore, a home repair fraud prevention expert and author of Don’t Even Think About Ripping Me Off!, an instructional guide to hiring, working with and paying home repair contractors. “After a disaster hits, predatory contractors take advantage of stressed-out and uninformed homeowners, making them victims, twice.”
NCPHIF wants to share some immediate tips with storm/disaster victims and their communities:
- Before you hire any contractors, call your insurance agent, especially if the contractor is telling you he will pay your deductible, won’t charge you a deductible, or will fill out your insurance paperwork for you. These are big red flags.
- Give no money up front! Give no money up front!
- Be very cautious of any contractor who knocks on your door. You should find your own contractor. Check with your city/county to see if they require contractors to have a special permit after a disaster.
- Some companies are known to use aggressive and misleading tactics. Pay attention to your instinct. Is he pushy? Anxious? Frustrated with your questions?
- Make sure you not only get his license and insurance information, but verify it.
- You already know to check with the Better Business Bureau in your state; check the BBB in surrounding states as well.
- Do not allow a contractor or a salesperson to intimidate you into immediately entering into a contractual relationship, even if the work needs to be done without delay.
- Be careful when agreeing to a discounted rate for allowing your home to be a “demonstration site,” or because the contractor has leftover materials from a previous job. This is a big red flag for potentially fraudulent practices. If you do this, make sure you tell your neighbors to be careful about giving that contractor money upfront.
- Find out what types of repair, renovation or construction projects the contractor performs. (Most contractors have specialties and do not work on every type of project.)
- Don’t sign any document until you fully understand all of the information in it. Contact a trusted advisor or attorney to review any document a contractor asks you to sign. Be sure to have your trusted advisor or attorney explain lien releases to you.
- If you allow a contractor to inspect your property for damage or repair, accompany them throughout their evaluation procedure; do not let them out of your sight.
“I also suggest taking a picture of the contractor, his vehicle, and his license plate number” says Moore. “We’ve had so many tornado victims contact us who are still having issues with their contractor, two years after the storm. The key is to educate yourself about the process.”
Moore has written a book to help homeowners navigate the process of dealing with contractors. 100 percent of the book’s profits go back to NCPHIF to help more homeowners avoid contractor fraud.
“My grandmother was a victim of contractor fraud and that really upset me” says Moore. That’s why I wrote this book. To help others avoid being conned.”
For more information, visit www.PreventContractorFraud.org.