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Watch out for scammers who prey on consumers after natural disasters

Natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, and fires often bring out scam artists who take advantage of the victims. Some of the most common "after-disaster" scams involve auto, home and yard repairs, or clean up.

Battery-park-floodingThe Better Business Bureau offers the following tips to consumers who suffer auto and property damage due to Hurricane Sandy:

 Check with your insurance company about policy coverage and specific filing requirements. Save all receipts – including those for food, temporary lodging, or other expenses – that may be covered under your policy.

Stay calm. Don't be pressured into making an immediate decision with a long-term impact. Be pro-active in selecting a company and not reactive to sales solicitations. Make temporary repairs if necessary.

Shop around. For major repairs, take time to get at least three to four estimates based on the same specifications and materials. Check references, verify licensing and registration, and read the BBB Business Reviews at www.bbb.org.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Be wary of door-to-door workers who claim to have leftover materials from a nearby job or who don’t have a permanent place of business. If sales people go door-to-door, check to see if your community requires them to have solicitation permits. Be leery if a worker shows up on your doorstep to announce that your home is unsafe. If you are concerned about possible structural damage in your home, have an engineer, architect, or building official inspect it.

Get everything in writing. Require a written contract with anyone you hire. It should specify the work to be done, materials to be used, and price breakdown for both labor and materials. Any promises made verbally should be written into the contract, including warranties on materials or labor. Be sure their name, address, license number, and phone number are included in the contract, along with a start and end date for the work. Once you have found a contractor, request proof of a current insurance certificate covering workman’s compensation, property damage, and personal liability.

Never pay in full in advance, and don’t pay cash. While many companies may ask for a deposit, the BBB suggests that no more than one-third of the job be paid upfront. Be sure the contract specifies the schedule for releasing payments to the contractor. Before making the final payment, ask the contractor to show proof that all subcontractors have been paid. If they haven’t been paid, you could be liable).

Disaster victims should never feel forced to make a hasty decision or to choose an unknown contractor. Take your time and check out any company thoroughly that you’re considering doing business with.

Copyright 2012, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist

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