As I wrote on Living on the Cheap, emergencies and disasters like Superstorm Hurricane Sandy bring out the best in us – and the worst. The Federal Trade Commission reminds us that fraudsters, scamers and rip-off artists often target the most desperate. Here are some things to set your warning bells ringing —
- Anybody showing up at your damaged doorstep. Ask for an ID. Look at their car or truck for a local license plate and signage on the side with a local address or phone number. Do not deal with any vehicle from out of state — unless that is a government license plate
- FEMA does not ask for money to register your claim or begin work. Anybody claiming to be FEMA who asks for money up front is a fraud.
- Ask for copies of general liability and worker’s compensation insurance, and don’t work with any contractor who can’t provide it. That will protect you from being sued if a worker is injured on your premises, including “staged” accidents to rip off your insurance company.Ask for references.
- Check out the contractor’s record with your local Better Business Bureau.
- Get more than one estimate for repairs or service, and read each contract carefully.
- Avoid paying more than the minimum in advance. Never pay more than one-third up front, and never pay cash, except for the down payment. Get a receipt for each payment, which you’ll need for your insurance claim. As I wrote elsewhere on NYC on the Cheap, you’ll need the same documents if you are filing a claim with FEMA.
- Remember that if an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.