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Money October 2017

Dollar Sense

Don’t Fall for Disaster-Related Scams

By Teresa Ambord

Most of all, trust your instincts. If you have doubts about hiring someone, don’t. There will be another “someone” to help you.

Flooding, fires, and hurricanes are bad enough. But when disasters take a toll, thieves see opportunities. You probably saw the videos of people looting after hurricanes Harvey and Irma. But what you didn’t see is how officials were swamped with hundreds of complaints of fraud.

When people are displaced from their homes by disasters of any kind, it’s natural for them to want to get back to normal as soon as they can. Thieves take advantage of that, posing as contractors and offering “such a deal” on home repairs or debris removal and other clean-up. Disaster victims who feel desperate often grasp at offers of help without vetting the contractors as well as they normally would.

If that’s your situation, stop. Before you do anything, read this information for some guidance.


Tips from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about Spotting and Avoiding Disaster Scams

  • Work with your insurance company to find out what is covered, and if you can, wait for an adjuster to give you an estimate of costs.
  • Take several bids and don’t be in a rush to choose one. Bids should spell out exactly the work that is included, all costs, and an estimated time of completion.
  • Beware of “contractors” or “handymen” who appear unprofessional. A common red flag is the guy who shows up at your door and says he has materials left over from another job. He happened to be working nearby and saw you had a problem, such as a damaged fence or roof. It just so happens that he has materials to fix that problem. In reality, he’s probably just some guy looking to make a quick buck. You may end up with shoddy work by an unqualified individual. Or, after you’ve paid in cash, he may never do the work at all. Ask for a state contractor license and proof of insurance. If these proofs aren’t provided, don’t hire this person.
  • One possible sign of a fraud is the vehicle the individual arrives in. Take a moment to look at the vehicle. Does the truck or van have permanent signage on it, advertising his business with local phone numbers you can call? Anyone can make a magnetic sign and slap it on a vehicle in an effort to create credibility.
  • If you think the person at your door may be a genuine contractor, ask for his license and proof of insurance, and then call your state’s license bureau to find out if there are complaints on file about this person. You can also call the local Better Business Bureau. If the contractor assures you the work he does will be covered by your insurance, don’t rely on his word for it. Call your insurer.
  • Ask the worker for references that you can call.
  • Assuming you decide to hire this person, pay him with a credit card or check. If he asks for a deposit or full payment in cash, refuse. He may tell you he needs the money to buy materials to complete the job. But beware. If you give him cash, you may never see him again.
  • Perhaps most of all, trust your instincts. If you have doubts about hiring someone, don’t. There will be another “someone” to help you.


Second Thoughts?

The Federal Trade Commission says if you have second thoughts about a contractor you’ve hired, you have the right to cancel the contract within three days if you signed the contract in your home, or at a seller’s temporary location like a hotel room, convention center, or restaurant. If you’re bothered by the deal you made, don’t hesitate to exercise your right to cancel.

Before you make a decision, check with your local consumer protection officials to see if contractors in your area need to be licensed. Go here: and enter your state.


Teresa Ambord is a former accountant and Enrolled Agent with the IRS. Now she writes full time from her home, mostly for business, and about family when the inspiration strikes.

Meet Teresa