Beware of Contractor Fraud
With Hurricane Matthew now safely behind us please beware of Contractor Fraud by scammers who are driven by greed.
Following almost every hurricane, tornado, tropical storm, or other critical incident scammers take to the streets to try and take advantage of those who are attempting to recover. They have only one goal in mind, to make as much money as possible from unsuspecting citizens and anyone who is in great need of having their homes or businesses repaired. They make promises of great work in a timely manner all while knowing they never intend to finish the job. Plain and simple, they are "scammers" who target victims of storms and other critical incidents!!
Please keep in mind that while there are a lot of scam artist out there who are looking to take advantage of those impacted by Hurricane Matthew, there are also a significant number of local great contractors who work hard everyday to protect their reputation in our community. My advice is to try and utilize local contractors when possible who are part of our community and who are part of what makes Brevard County such an awesome place to call home!!
Below is a comprehensive list of things to keep in mind in order to avoid becoming the victim of "Contractor Scams" following a major storm or critical incident:
1. If they solicit you, send them on their way.
A great number of scammers will travel through neighborhoods or solicit via telephone for contracting work following a storm. Never engage with someone who solicits work at your door, through email, or even by telephone. If you are in need of contracting work or repairs do your research on-line and find a contractor who has been in business a while and has good ratings on the various sites to include the Better Business Bureau.
A safe approach is to use your voice mail and answering machine as a filter to unwanted callers or solicitors and of course never open your door to anyone you are not familiar with.
2. Inquire about contractor licensing and permits
Prior to signing any contract or agreement, investigate the intended contractor to see if they are properly licensed and inquire about the obtaining of permits. Be careful of imitation or similar names of well-known companies or scammers trying to insinuate that they are sub-contractors for local reputable companies. A great resource for verifying licensing is the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations by visiting their website at myfloridalicense.com
3. Verify bonding and insurance
Prior to doing business with any contractor make sure to contact their bonding company and insurance carrier to verify that they are properly bonded and have liability insurance as well worker's compensation policies that are significant enough to handle your job.
4. Get multiple estimates
Following a critical incident a number of home owners rush to get their homes and even businesses repaired by doing everything possible to be the first on the contractor's list. No matter how big a rush you are in be certain to always get multiple estimates on any contracting job. Scammers will give you quick guarantees and other promises that real contractors will discuss with you in-depth and include in contracts. Remember, take your time, find reputable companies and then look for estimates and quality of work that will be the best and most efficient for you and your family.
5. Never pay full price up-front
Be cautious of any contractor that requires payment in full prior to beginning the project. While legitimate contracting companies will most often require a "down payment" scammers want all of the money up front so they can take your money and leave. The best course of action is to discuss with the contractor paying a percentage of the total cost at various stages of work completion so each stage of the overall project is paid for as it is finalized and completed to your satisfaction.
6. Use the internet to research potential contractors
One of the best tools we have to avoid becoming the victim of scams is to research the various contractors and companies that are being considered for repairs at your home or business. There are a great number of resources out there that provide great details about contractors to include rating their previous customer satisfaction levels. Prior to signing any contract be sure to check out the contractor and do your own investigating before making a financial commitment to them.
7. If you encounter any suspicious activity or are approached by potential scammers please contact your local Law Enforcement Agency to report the incident.
I hope the above tips help to keep you from becoming a victim of "Contractor Fraud" and "Scams" that follow a major storm or critical incident. It's unfortunate that we have to worry about perpetrators of this type after just battling Hurricane Matthew, however by being properly prepared and aware of potential criminal activity we can work together to avoid becoming crime's next victim.