BBB warning – avoid post Hurricane Irma scams

As the immediate crisis of Hurricane Irma passes, consumers will start to evaluate any damage done and begin the clean-up process. Better Business Bureau receives hundreds of complaints every year concerning sub-par work performed by contractors, and encourages consumers to take the time to properly research contractors to avoid creating a bigger problem. Natural disasters can bring out the best in people, as strangers reach out to help others in need. Unfortunately, the aftermath of a crisis typically also brings out many types of scams and unlicensed contractors who take advantage of those who have been victimized.

Better Business Bureau serving West Florida (BBB) is warning local residents that may be affected by Hurricane Irma to beware of storm chasers and out-of-town contractors soliciting business. “It is common for out-of-town storm chasers to solicit business after storms,” said Karen Nalven, BBB President. “Disaster victims should never feel pressured to make a decision by an unknown contractor. Consumers should start with trust and look for the BBB Accredited Business Seal; these companies are screened, monitored, licensed and trusted. Storm chasers may not have proper licensure for your area and may offer quick fixes or make big promises to which they won’t deliver.”

Your BBB offers the following tips for hurricane Irma victims at www.bbb.org/florida-hurricane-guide:

• Before you hire check out the company/contractor at bbb.org. It’s fast, easy and free. Also search the company/contractor online adding the word “Complaint”, “Reviews” or “Scam” after their name for different search results.

• Our Disaster Recovery Repairing and Rebuilding Guide provides helpful resources to aid you in your clean-up and repair efforts at https://www.bbb.org/west-florida/hurricanes/disaster-recovery/

• Visit: https://www.bbb.org/west-florida/hurricanes/additional-resources/ for disaster recovery information and resources from local, state and federal agencies.

• Contractors must be registered with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, unless work is limited to a specific area. To check licensing, call 850-487-1395, download their app named DBPR mobile or go online to http://www.myfloridalicense.com/ to check whether a contractor is registered. If contractors limit their work to local areas they may only be required to secure a license with their county in lieu of DBPR. Check with your local county contractors’ certification/building department if you are unsure if a contractor has secured proper licensing.

• Many municipalities require a solicitation permit if sales people go door-to- door. Verify that they need to have a permit by contacting your local Township or Municipality. BBB suggests consumers be pro-active in selecting a contractor and not re-active to sales calls on the phone or door-to- door pitches.

• Always ask for identification and contact the company directly should you have any concerns.

• While most roofing contractors abide by the law, be careful allowing someone you do not know inspect your roof. An unethical contractor may actually create damage to get work.

• Understand Assignment of Benefits Contracts. Beware of contractors who claim to be insurance claim specialists and may ask you to sign an agreement to allow them to contact your insurance company and seek approval of repairs for you. Many unscrupulous businesses have tricked consumers into signing a work estimate without reading the fine print, which commits you to automatically contract with their business if your insurance claim is approved. Click here for more information from Florida Department of Financial Services.

• Check online with the http://sunbiz.org/ or call 850.245.6000 to verify that a company is registered to do business in your state.

• Try to get at least 3-4 quotes from contractors, and insist that payments be made to the company, not an individual.

• Do not pay for the job in advance. Be wary of any contractor who demands full or half payment upfront.

• Resist high-pressure sales tactics such as the “good deal” you’ll get only if you hire the contractor on the spot.

• Get a written contract that specifies the price, the work to be done, the amount of liability insurance coverage maintained by the contractor, and a time frame. Require a copy of their current certificate of insurance.

• Pay by credit card, if possible; you may have additional protection if there’s a problem.

• Check that the contractor’s vehicle has signs or markings on it with the business name, phone number and license plates for your state.

• When dealing with mold in Florida, mold assessors and remediators must hold an active license with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations. You may view the status at www.myfloridalicense.com or call 1-850-487-1395. The license information also should tell you how long the contractor has been licensed to perform work. Make sure the business has extensive experience in cleaning up mold. Ask for references from the business and contact these references for more information. Also, ask family and friends if they have worked with a mold remediation expert in the past and had a favorable experience.

• Beware of price gouging of commodities or services; if there’s a “gross disparity” between the prior price and the current charge, it is considered price gouging. If you think you are being priced gouged report it to the Price Gouging Hotline established by the Florida Attorney General’s Office at 1-866-9-NO-SCAM.

If you hire an uninsured and unlicensed contractor and a serious injury were to occur to the contractor, you, as the person that hired them, could potentially be liable for paying the workers compensation benefits. This could turn a simple $1,000 repair into a bill for tens of thousands more. In addition, a neighboring property, a passerby or other property that is negligently damaged by an unlicensed contractor can become a liability to the person that hired the contractor. Start With Trust. For reliable information, lists of BBB Accredited Businesses by industry and BBB Business Profiles you can trust on local businesses, visit www.bbb.org/west-florida or you can email us at info@bbbwestflorida.org or contact our office at 800-525-1447.

About BBB: For more than 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2016, people turned to BBB more than 172 million times for BBB Business Reviews on more than 5.3 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at bbb.org. There are local, independent BBBs across the United States, Canada and Mexico, including BBB Serving West Florida which includes Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando, Charlotte, Collier, Desoto, Hardee, Lee, Sarasota and Manatee.

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