Contractor scams

It can happen to anyone ... Hurricanes, tornados, hail or fire can damage your roof or siding, or more.

You want to get back on your feet quickly. Yet big storms lure shady contractors to your neighborhood. Most contractors are honest, yet some try to exploit the confusion of a disaster. They want to line their pocket at your expense.

The scams

The price you pay

Fight back

The scams

• Lowball bids such as "special hurricane deals" and "limited time offers;”

• Shoddy repairs, using substandard material.

• Damages your roof or siding more than it already is, to inflate the claim.

• Disappears with your downpayment after finishing only part of the job — or doing no work.

• Convinces you to legally sign over your claim to the contractor. Inflated claims are made behind your back. Your insurer is sued without your knowing.

Warning sign: Stranger knocks on your door after a storm, offering “affordable” repairs.Repairs insured?

The price you pay

• You have shoddy repairs that can take weeks of stress to fix before you can move back into your home.

• Your claim is denied because the repairs were fraudulent — you pay out of your own pocket.

Fight back

Get several bids. Get two or three written repair bids, if possible. They should include allcosts, what work will be done, schedule for completing the work, and guarantees.

Hire local. Use established local contractors. Avoid strangers who go door-to-door, especially after a storm. They may be unlicensed, dishonest, untrained and from out of state.

Licensed? Ask to see a contractor's state or local licenses, and check with the government contractor licensing agency.

Hint: Ask for proof of liability and workers-compensation insurance.

Signed contract. Get a signed contract — before work begins. But don't sign contracts with blanks.

Avoid advance payment. Never pay a contractor in full before work begins. Normally you should only pay about 20 percent or less upfront.

• Hint: Never pay extra when a contractor says the cost of materials has "suddenly increased." Pay only what's spelled out in your signed contract.

No cash. Pay only with check or credit card — never cash.

Repairs insured? Make sure your insurer will cover the repairs — before work starts. Also have your insurance adjuster estimate the damage and repair costs.

Coordinate with insurer. If practical … have your insurer inspect the damage before repairs begin. Insurers may even require an inspection first. Your claim could be denied if you make expensive, permanent repairs before the insurer inspects.

Signing off. Sign the certificate of job completion only when repairs are finished to your satisfaction, and per your signed contract.

Fight back. Contact your state insurance fraud bureau and local office of consumer affairs if you suspect a repair scam.