Hurricane Scam Warning

By GalTime Consumer Watchdog Mary Schwager

Warning: New Hurricane ScamWarning: New Hurricane Scam

'Tis the season for tropical storms and hurricanes! When the warnings first go out about where the next Leslie, Michael, Nadine or Oscar will strike, rescue personnel and emergency management agencies gust into action. Unfortunately, so do scammers.

Now, we all think that we're pretty savvy and wouldn't fall for the tactics of some con-artist contractor--- but you have to remember the panic stricken state you would be in if a storm tore through your neighborhood. Imagine standing in your driveway, shocked because half your roof was torn off or your windows were blown out. Frequently, when a storm hits a large area, the contractor you usually rely on is booked solid. So when someone walks up to your door offering to help, you become an easier target because you're desperate.

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Sometimes fraudsters even try to cash in on your property insurance and financial relief from the federal government. Other scammers will try to get you to pay cash up front for supplies and then never return to do the work. As the storm warnings roll in, here are some good tips from the Federal Trade Commission and attorneys general across the country to make sure a contractor doesn't leave you soaked.

How to Avoid Hurricane Scams

  • Even though you may be desperate, try to get at least three estimates in writing itemizing the work to be done.

  • Never pay cash and never pay more than one-third of a job up front.

  • Ask for copies of the contractor's general liability and worker's compensation insurance.

  • Check the contractor's identification and references. If your state requires licensing, make sure your worker shows proof.

  • You may even want to ask to take down a worker's driver's license number and vehicle license plate.

  • Avoid paying more than the minimum in advance.

Related: 5 Common Mistakes That Could Cost You Your Home

  • Deal with established businesses that have offices in or near your community.

  • Check them out online, try The Better Business Bureau as a good sounding board.

  • Once you have the estimates, contact your insurance company to discuss the work and what it will cover.

  • Never let a contractor discourage you or try to interpret your homeowner's insurance.

  • When you hire the contractor have them sign a contract and get a guarantee in writing.

If a contractor pushes you to pay cash or make a decision right away, you may want to close the door and keep looking--- you certainly don't want to make a bad situation worse. Should you suspect a scam, contact your local police department right away.

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