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Hurricane Harvey: Avoid the Shady Contractor

flooded streets.jpgIn the coming weeks, Texans will be working to rebuild homes and property that were destroyed by Hurricane Harvey. And in the coming weeks, fraudsters will be working hard to scam vulnerable people in their time of need. Shady contractors will flock to the disaster affected area to try to make a quick buck with shoddy repair work for which they often demand payment up front. Once their phony repair work is complete, they disappear, never to be heard from again.

In fact, after Katrina in 2005, the justice department created a task force to target shady storm-chasing contractors. Since the task force expanded into the National Center for Disaster Fraud, over 50,000 cases have been referred to law enforcement, according the Justice Department figures.

There are ways to avoid getting scammed by shady contractors.

  • Don’t trust the unsolicited door-to-door contractor. Instead, talk to friends and family and get referrals for trusted contractors who have done work for them before. If you don’t have a good referral, ask your insurer for a list of contractors they work with.
  • Get multiple bids to ensure you are not being over-charged for work.
  • Work with a real company that you can go back to if the work isn’t done properly. Many of the shady contractors don’t have a real company or employees. It’s easy enough to create a website and print a few business cards. You can search the Texas Secretary of State data to see if they are a bona fide company.
  • Also, don’t feel pressured to sign any documents from a contractor you don’t know. Be extremely cautious to make sure you really understand what you are signing. A common scam is to try to trick you into signing a document that says that the contractor is allowed to only talk to your insurance company, when in fact, you are signing away your claim directly to the contractor and you may never see any of the money from your claim.
  • And most importantly, never pay contractors up front. Pay installments and do not make the final payment until the work is complete and done correctly.

Approach any unknown contractors with caution. Do a little due diligence before working with them. It could save you a lot of trouble in an already stressful situation.