In the wake of extensive damage caused by flooding, home repair rip-off artists can prey on consumers desperate to get their property back in shape. Anxious to get the work done quickly and get their lives back to normal, some consumers may neglect to take the necessary precautions when hiring contractors. To protect consumers whose homes have been damaged by floods, the Federal Trade Commission is offering the following home-repair tips in its consumer education publication, “After a Disaster: Repairing Your Home”:
- Deal only with licensed and insured contractors;
- Verify the track record of any contractor you are thinking of hiring by calling their recent customers, your area Better Business Bureau and Home Builders Association, insurance agents, and claims adjusters;
- Get recommendations from family, friends, and co-workers;
- Take your time signing a contract – don’t automatically select the lowest bidder, and make sure you fully understand any price variations. Ask a knowledgeable friend or attorney to look over your contract before you sign, and be sure to get a signed copy of the contract before work begins;
- Verify that there is no cost for an estimate before letting anyone into your home;
- Resist dealing with a contractor who asks you to pay the entire cost of the job up-front – a deposit of one-third of the total amount is standard – and pay the final amount only after the work has been completed to your satisfaction. Never pay cash;
- If you take out a loan to pay for repairs, be wary of using your home as collateral. If you do not repay the loan as agreed, you could lose your home; and
- Be wary of contractors who encourage you to spend a lot of money on temporary repairs – make sure you have enough money for permanent repairs. This publication is available on the FTC’s Web site at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/alerts/alt030.shtm.
If you suspect a home repair rip-off, contact the Consumer Division of your State Attorney General’s Office. If you suspect fraud, waste or abuse involving Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster assistance programs, report it to FEMA’s Inspector General’s Office.
To order copies of FTC consumer publications visit www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/bulkordr.htm. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish (bilingual counselors are available to take complaints), or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
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