Storms lead to increases in contractor fraud

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By ALLEN MCQUISTON


Jemez Agency
Serving Los Alamos since 1963

As our monsoon season begins, a warning.

In the wake of extreme weather events, dodgy contractors descend on affected communities, offering quick and cheap fixes for damaged homes and businesses or rapid debris removal. They will want payment up front or try to persuade you to sign a payment from your insurance company.

Typically, these “storm chasers” are shady contractors and charge extra for shoddy work – which, depending on local licensing rules, the homeowner’s insurance may not cover. Others are real crooks who take the money and run away. Some seek out older owners, perceiving them to be more confident, more likely to have a large nest egg, and more likely to have memory or cognitive issues that they can exploit.

Home improvement scams
Sometimes, unscrupulous contractors collude with scammers posing as public insurance adjusters who charge high fees for “damage assessments” and then direct targets to the sleazy contractor.

While contractor fraud follows weather events, it is not limited to that. Throughout the year, especially in hot weather, it’s not uncommon for contractors to show up at homeowners’ doorsteps uninvited. They say they were doing some work in the neighborhood and noticed your house needed repairs as well. They offer to fix the roof, repave the driveway, or do other repairs or renovations, for what seems like a bargain price. The owner is asked to pay for the work in advance, then the bogus contractor disappears without having done anything.

These are the precautions we offer consumers to spot and avoid contractor scams.

Do your research before accepting any offers of contractor services that come your way – over the phone, at your doorstep, or in the mail. If you need a contractor, proactively research your options.

Ask for an offer in writing and compare offers from several contractors before accepting any work.

Insist on seeing references and verify that the contractor is licensed to work in your state. Make sure they carry liability and workers compensation coverage.

Obtain a written contract before paying and before work begins.

Do not pay cash. The Federal Trade Commission recommends using a check or credit card, or arranging financing (but not through the contractor; they may try to convince you to take out a home equity loan or mortgage reversed and have the lender pay them directly – stifling any incentive to do the job well or even complete it).

Don’t put down a big deposit. The initial payment must not exceed one third of the total estimate, payable on the day of the arrival of the materials.

Contractor fraud is a year-round phenomenon, but with more extreme weather events, we can expect contractor scams to increase along with it.

For other insurance related articles, visit our website at www.thejemezagency.com

Reprinted with kind permission from Central Insurance.

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