Cathy Jett is the assistant business editor at The Free Lance-Star, and specializes in covering the area's retail scene.
Beware of scammers seeking to cash in on Hurricane Sandy
As the skies begin to clear after Hurricane Sandy, “storm chasers” are certain to come out in full force.
They’re the scam artists who will try to take advantage of vulnerable storm victims. Typically they’ll offer to repair a damaged roof, remove a fallen tree or clean up a debris-filled yard for cash in advance.
The Better Business Bureau office in Richmond has not gotten any calls about storm scams so far, but it is urging people who have experienced storm damage to take certain precautions when cleaning up and making repair decisions. They are:
- 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.
- Although you may be anxious to get things back to normal, avoid letting your emotions get the better of you. Don’t be pressured into making an immediate decision with a long-term impact. Be pro-active in selecting a business and not re-active to sales solicitations. Make temporary repairs if necessary.
- For major repairs, take time to shop around and get 3-4 estimates based on the same specifications and materials. Check out references that are at least one year-old, verify with ( Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation, Board for Contractors Division, or 804/367-8511) that businesses are required to be licensed/registered to do work in your area. All work inside homes that pre-dates 1978 must be done by contractors that are certified to conduct lead-based paint activities and renovations.
- Be wary of door-to-door workers who claim to have left-over materials from a job “down the street” or who do not 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.
- Require a written contract agreement with anyone you hire. It should specify the work to be done, the materials to be used and the price breakdown for both labor and materials. Any promises made orally should be written into the contract, including warranties on materials or labor. Be sure their name, address, license number, if applicable, and phone number along with a start and end date for the work is included in contract. Read and understand the contract in its entirety and don’t sign a blank contract. A copy of the signed contract is to be given to you at time of signature.
- 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 for all repairs in advance, and do not pay cash! While many businesses may ask for a deposit, BBB suggests that no more one-third of the job be paid up front. Be sure the contract specifies the schedule for releasing payments to the contractor.