My local NBC station reported a story this week about a homeowner who was robbed right in front of her eyes. No, she wasn't bounded and gagged and forced to watch the robbery. Instead, what she thought was a reputable utility worker enterted her house after her power outage due to Hurricane Sandy, and it was really a scam for money.
That is he scammed her into believing he was there to check on her power, and he stole all her money when he sent her to the basement to check on the electric panel.
Scam alert: after Sandy and the recent winter storm The Weather Channel is calling Athena, expect money scams to be on the rise. If you need a contractor, don't hire one that shows up on your doorstep, unsolicited, with an offer of help.
HomeAdvisor, the contractor-referral service that I'd used to install a generator, recently sent out a scam alert warning homeowners to be on the lookout for contractor scams.
"After any natural disaster there is an increase in storm-chasing contractors attempting to take advantage of distressed homeowners," said HomeAdvisor CEO Chris Terrill. "Post-Sandy, we have seen an 87% increase—as compared to what we saw after Hurricane Irene—in requests for generator installation, roof repair, tree removal and siding repair in the areas most heavily impacted by the storm. Since these repair categories are in such high demand, we anticipate storm chasers to target these specific tasks and homeowners should be on alert in the coming weeks."
According to HomeAdvisor, the most common contractor fraud involves "storm chasers" that go door-to-door soliciting work they never plan to provide. Don't accept offers from any traveling or door-to-door salespeople, and never hire a contractor that doesn't come highly recommended
Also, a reputable contractor will never ask for cash and won't require that the entire job be paid "up front." That's just one of these scams for money. In addition, he won't use scare tactics, such as signing for repairs that seemingly urgent. Before agreeing to any additional costly repairs, seek other opinions.
Finally, when you hire a contractor, always get written estimates but don't always go with the cheapest price. Dramatically cheaper prices may indicate contractor fraud. Outside of the emergency repairs I needed during the hurricane, I have followed this advice when hiring contractors. When getting three bids, I'll often go with the bid in the middle, as long as the contractor comes with stellar reviews.
Bottom line: Before you hire a contractor, always ask these four questions:
- How long have you been in business?
- Are you licensed and registered with the state?
- Can you provide a list of references?
- Do you belong to any professional associations?
If you don't like the answers you get, find someone else to do the job.