DES PLAINES, Ill., August 26, 2020 — Cal Fire personnel continue to battle blazes as hundreds of thousands of acres burn following recent lightning storms causing the evacuation of thousands of Californians. When evacuees return home, they could be faced with the long, somber task of rebuilding their homes and lives – and could be victimized by dishonest contractors looking to make a quick, corrupt buck.
Following a disaster, victims are understandably confused and shaken with the damage or possible loss of their homes and belongings. Sadly, it is at this time crooked contractors arrive and press homeowners into paying out their insurance claim prior to the repairs being completed. Time and again, investigators with the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) have seen these bad actors collect payment, and then disappear without completing the work that was promised.
Typically, these disaster repair scams are unsolicited, beginning with a visit from a contractor who seeks to help victims rebuild. Before hiring any contractor, call your insurance company. There is no need to rush into an agreement with a contractor who solicits your repair work, especially if it was not requested.
NICB suggests you consider these tips before hiring a contractor:
- Get more than one estimate.
- Get everything in writing. Cost, work to be done, time schedules, guarantees, payment schedules, and other expectations should be detailed.
- Request references and do the research.
- Ask to see the salesperson’s driver’s license and write down the license number and their vehicle’s license plate number.
- Look out for out-of-state contractor licenses as well as out-of-state vehicle registrations as these may also indicate possible fraudulent contractors.
- Never sign a contract with blanks; unacceptable terms can be added later.
- Never pay a contractor in full or sign a completion certificate until the work is finished.
- Ensure reconstruction is up to current code.
- Make sure you review and understand all documents sent to your insurance carrier.
- Never let a contractor pressure you into hiring them.
- Never let a contractor interpret the insurance policy language.
- Never let a contractor discourage you from contacting your insurance company.
Furthermore, some deceitful contractors will state they are supported by the government. However, the Federal Emergency Management Agency does not endorse individual contractors or loan agencies. Consumers should call FEMA for more specifics at (800) 621-FEMA.