Some of the most common "after-disaster" scams involve your auto, home and yard repairs or clean-up. Visit http://www.bbb.org/Cleveland/natural-disasters for comprehensive tips.
Better Business Bureau offers the following advice:
- 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 the building department at your city hall that businesses are required to be licensed/registered to do work in your area.
- Check the contractor’s BBB rating at http://www.bbb.org/cleveland.
- Be wary of door-to-door workers who offer “free” repairs 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.
- Do not let anyone perform an inspection of your property if you are not home.
- Never sign over a Power of Attorney to any contractor or succumb to high pressure sales tactics to sign a contract.
- 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 dates 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 workers 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.
One of your most important decisions will be choosing the contractor who will do the repairs. A new BBB service can connect homeowners to trustworthy businesses within seconds. The “BBBASAP” program was recently launched in the Cleveland area. Go to bbbasap.com (select Cleveland) and select the type of service needed. Provide some basic details and the request is sent to the smart phone of the BBB Accredited Business professional located closest to the homeowner. The contractor responds to the request and, within seconds, can connect to the homeowner.
Disaster victims should never feel forced to make a hasty decision or to choose an unknown business. Start With Trust. For reliable information, lists of BBB Accredited Businesses by industry and BBB Business Reviews you can trust on local businesses, visit bbb.org/cleveland or call (216) 241-7678.
Sue A. McConnell