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How to Avoid Contractor Scams after a Natural Disaster
By the RestorationSOS Educational Staff
Any time disaster strikes, the news is replete with stories of human goodness and generosity. Unfortunately, those times can also be the source of rip-offs, scams, fraud, and generally the worst examples of what humanity has to offer. The fact that they continue to prosper year after year is testimony to just how effectively underhanded they operate. It is important to understand how to avoid becoming a victim in the aftermath of a disaster.
Scammers and con artists begin filtering into an area not long after a disaster has occurred. You may see signs on telephone poles advertising their "company" or they may just drive through damaged streets and go door to door.
To the unsuspecting homeowner, scammers typically show up in your time of need, presenting themselves as sympathetic and knowledgeable. In many cases they will perform what appears to be a legitimate assessment, detailing the level of damage and what needs to be done in order to repair it. This is where the scam comes in.
Scammers will at this point ask for cash up front, giving you a promise to purchase materials and return to do the work. Of course, once they have your money you will never see them again. Then you are not only out a significant amount of cash, but you will still have to come up with funds to pay a legitimate contractor. So how do you avoid being taken?
Tips to Protect Yourself
Always get their proposal in writing, and never pay more than one-third of the estimated job cost up front. Some con artists will try to pressure you into making a decision on the spot, knowing that impulse buyers make for the best victims. No matter how tempting it may sound, tell them to give you a day to think about it and ask for references; a legitimate company wonít mind this at all.
Never pay in cash. A cash-only operation is a scam more often than not. Once they begin asking you for cash, you should know that you may be dealing with a shady operation. Only pay by a credit card or check so you are able to dispute the charges if the work is not completed.
Your best move is to go with a recognized, local provider. They will have a business address and they will have no problem with following up and answering your questions. After all, they have a reputation in the community that they want to uphold, so they arenít going to make any mistakes that can come back to haunt them.
Other scams include charity cons; people soliciting money for what turns out to be nonexistent charities. You should only provide donations to charities that you know and trust, or those that can be verified with a little judicious research.
In the wake of a disaster, property owners are ripe for the picking. Donít become another statistic.
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