Overview

When a disaster strikes, consumers should be on the lookout for dishonest repair fraud service providers. These individuals and businesses prey on disaster victims knowing they are in their most vulnerable state. If you come across this situation, do not make any rash decisions. Research your options carefully to avoid losing your property or money.

Other post-disaster repair scams are fraudsters claiming to work for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). They contact victims with promises they have no intention on keeping such as building permits or helping speed up insurance claims. A genuine FEMA inspector will not ask for money or personal information. Scammers may also pose as insurance adjusters, charging high fees.

Door-to-door contractors

A common fraud scheme is acting as a contractor to convince homeowners that a large deposit must be provided first in order to repair your home. Protect yourself and your wallet from bogus contractors looking to make quick cash. Door-to-door contractors flock to neighborhoods offering clean up and repair services. If you are insured, you are going to want to call your adjuster and have them make an estimate on the damage and repair costs so you know what prices are reasonable when you negotiate with contractors.

Be suspicious of door-to-door contractors who give low estimates or refuse to leave a contract overnight for review. If someone does come to your door, do not feel rushed into making any decisions and consider the following:

  1. Get more than one estimate;
  2. Research the contractor and get references from past customers;
  3. Keep all copies of documents including the total cost, the work to be done, the schedule, payment terms and other expectations;
  4. Do not sign a contract with blanks;
  5. Ask for proof of insurance;
  6. Find out in writing if the contractor will place a lien, security interest or mortgage on your property;
  7. Ask for guarantees in writing; and
  8. Don’t sign completion papers or make a final payment until the job is completed properly.

Roofers

Repairing a roof is one of the most expensive home repairs and no wonder why fraudulent roofing companies take advantage of disaster victims. You don’t have to sign a contract with anyone right away. Be aware of roofing companies who encourage you to spend a ton of money on temporary repairs. This could leave you without enough money to pay for permanent repairs. Investigate the track record of any roofing companies looking to earn your business such as professionals that have a great reputation.

Common roofing cons include:

  1. False promises: Scammers will say anything to get homeowners to sign a bogus contract;
  2. Exaggerate damage: In hopes of a larger pay, they will lie about nonexistent damage or even purposely damage roofs to make it appear that it was caused by the weather;
  3. Sudden costs: Unethical roofers will demand more money for materials or unforeseen damages; and
  4. Rebate: Some roofers will attempt to lure homeowners into agreeing to unnecessary claims.

Disasters can bring out the best in people, as neighbors and strangers donate money and give each other a helping hand. For others, this is an opportunity to bring out the worst in scammers who take advantage of other’s misfortunes. Repair fraud is one of the leading scams after a natural disaster. Sketchy contractors or “storm chasers” often take advantage of communities offering quick, cheap fixes. They end up asking for a payment up front, they overcharge, they do poor work or no work at all and take the money and run. 

Lone Star Legal Aid will also talk consumer protection on KPFT Pacifica 90.1 FM‘s The People’s News on Friday, March 20, 2020 at 2 PM.

The Federal Trade Commission is an independent agency of the United States government whose principal mission is the enforcement of civil laws intended to protect consumers from predatory business practices and the promotion of consumer protection. To file a consumer complaint, register for the national DO NOT CALL list, report identity theft, get your free credit report, order free resources, or get email updates, click here.

Lone Star Legal Aid is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit law firm focused on advocacy on behalf of low-income and underserved populations. Lone Star Legal Aid serves the millions of people at 125% of federal poverty guidelines that reside in 72 counties in the eastern and Gulf Coast regions of Texas, and 4 counties of southwest Arkansas. Lone Star Legal Aid focuses its resources on maintaining, enhancing, and protecting income and economic stability; preserving housing; improving outcomes for children; establishing and sustaining family safety and stability, health and well‐being; and assisting populations with special vulnerabilities, like those who have disabilities, or who are elderly, homeless, or have limited English language skills. To learn more about Lone Star Legal Aid, visit our website at www.lonestarlegal.org.

Media contact: Clarissa Ayala, cayala@lonestarlegal.org