Disaster Fraud Prevention Tips: How to Avoid Being Hit Twice
A public service brought to you by the Attorney General's Office
If your property has been damaged by the recent hurricane, here are some disaster fraud prevention tips to help with the clean-up and repair.
Frustrated and anxious homeowners and landlords, eager to get their property back in shape, may neglect to take the usual precautions when hiring contractors. As a result, some consumers find that they've hired part-time contractors, who may not get the job done in a reasonable time; contractors from surrounding areas, who may be difficult to track down for follow-up; inexperienced contractors, who may not do the job well; and all too often, just plain crooks, who are seizing the opportunity to make a fast buck.
Many communities have emergency ordinances in place to keep crooked contractors out. But for consumers desperate to get the work done, recognizing a home repair rip-off can be a challenge.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency offer the following tips for consumers who may be facing major repairs after a disaster hits home:
- Deal only with licensed and insured contractors. Verify the track record of any roofer, builder or contractor you're thinking of hiring. Ask for a list of recent customers and call them.
- Get recommendations from friends, relatives, neighbors, co-workers, insurance agents or claims adjusters. Also check with the local Better Business Bureau and Home Builders Association to see if complaints have been lodged against any contractor you're considering.
- Take your time about signing a contract. Get a written estimate that includes any oral promises the contractor made. But remember to ask if there's a charge for an estimate before allowing anyone into your home. Ask for explanations for price variations, and don't automatically choose the lowest bidder. Get a copy of the final, signed contract before the job begins.
- Resist dealing with any contractor who asks you to pay for the entire job up-front. A deposit of one-third of the total price is standard procedure. Pay only by check or credit card - and pay the final amount only after the work is completed to your satisfaction. Don't pay cash.
- Be skeptical of contractors who encourage you to spend a lot of money on temporary repairs. Make sure there's enough money for permanent repairs.
- Ask a knowledgeable friend, relative or attorney to review a home repair contract before you sign. If you get a loan to pay for the work, be cautious about using your home as security: If you don't repay the loan as agreed, you could lose your home. Consider asking an attorney to review the loan documents, as well.
If you believe you have been the victim of a disaster related scam, please contact the following agencies:
Louisiana Department of Justice
Consumer Protection Section
301 Main Street, Suite 1250
Baton Rouge, LA 70825
Better Business Bureau
Baton Rouge: (225) 346-5222
Alexandria: (318) 473-4494
Houma: (985) 868-3456
Lafayette: (337) 981-3497
Lake Charles: (337) 478-6253
Monroe: (318) 387-4600
New Orleans: (504) 581-6222
Shreveport: (318) 861-6417
Contractors Licensing Board
2525 Quail Drive
Baton Rouge, LA 70808
Local District Attorney, Sheriff and Police Department