Home News Stories 2005 June A Cautionary Tale - Hurricane Repair Scams
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A Cautionary Tale - Hurricane Repair Scams

A Cautionary Tale
Hurricane Repair Scams: Don’t Get Taken by the “Big Fix”



Get ready to batten down the hatches, you east-coasters: Atlantic hurricane season is officially underway. And some forecasters warn it could be another stormy year.

But driving winds and rain may not be the only things coming your way: beware the home repair rip-off artists who follow in their wake.

We’ve seen it again and again in our cases. Home repair crooks swoop in after hurricanes (not to mention other natural disasters) and prey on homeowners desperate to get their lives back to normal. These criminals know that many legitimate companies are booked for months after major disasters and that some frustrated homeowners won’t do their homework before signing on the dotted line.

What’s the “M.O.” of these con artists? Just two examples:

  • Let’s say your roof is damaged by a hurricane. A “contractor” knocks on your door and offers to fix it for a drastically discounted price. He says he’s got some materials left over from other work he did in the neighborhood. He’ll give you the low-ball price—if you sign the papers today.
  • People claiming to be local utility company workers or building or health inspectors appear at your door unannounced and point out “problems” such as shoddy roofing, a cracked driveway, or dangerous electrical wiring. They say you’re in violation of some regulation and give you the name of someone who can fix the problem fast. Then that person overcharges, performs shoddy work, starts the job and then says it’ll cost thousands more, or skips town with your $$ before finishing.
Sadly, home repair scams cost unsuspecting Americans billions of dollars a year. And crooks often target seniors, low-income families, and others who can least afford it.

So how can you protect yourself? A few tips:

  • Be wary of contractors who go door-to-door and aren’t listed in the phonebook; who talk very fast and pressure you to sign papers immediately; who offer unbelievably long guarantees; who ask you to pay the entire job up-front and accept only cash; or who suggest you borrow money from lenders they know.
  • Ask trusted friends or insurance agents to recommend a contractor; then check the firm’s record with your local consumer organization or state attorney general.
  • Deal only with contractors who are licensed, bonded, and insured.
  • Get all estimates, guarantees, and work dates in writing. Make sure you get several estimates, and don’t necessarily choose the lowest bidder.
When do we get involved? Mostly, in the case of larger, interstate criminal rings...when the government is defrauded...and when we learn of big ticket insurance scams. It’s all part of our larger effort to combat white collar crime.

For your sake and ours, be crime smart when it comes to home repair work.
Ask lots of questions, do your homework, and remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Link: Protecting Yourself from Common Fraud Schemes

Photograph courtesy of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.