Beware of Contractor Fraud

July 1, 2013 - When storms hit, your home and life can be turned upside down. You’re eager to get your home repaired, but be careful because some contractors aren’t really there to help.

Most contractors are reputable business people, but the dishonest ones may try to convince you that you have hail or other damage and need a new roof, even if your roof did not experience any damage at all. Often they won’t even go on the roof to inspect the damage. They’ll explain that everyone in the area was affected by the storm when it is impossible to make that assumption.

That means that you may be filing an unnecessary claim and repairing a roof that isn’t damaged. These unscrupulous contractors travel from town to town after a storm occurs and try to take advantage of people who are recovering from a natural disaster.

What You Can Do

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) offer the following eight tips to those who are beginning the process of rebuilding disaster-damaged property:

  1. Get more than one estimate and don’t be pushed into signing a contract right away.
  2. Investigate the track record and references of any contractor you are considering hiring. Look for professionals who have a solid reputation in your community. Use a local, licensed, bonded and insured contractor. You can call your Better Business Bureau for help.
  3. Never give anyone a deposit until after you have thoroughly researched a contractor’s background.
  4. Get everything in writing. Cost, work to be done, time schedules, guarantees, payment schedules and other expectations should be detailed. Read the fine print of any estimate or agreement before signing. Never sign a contract with blanks; unacceptable terms could be added later.
  5. Beware of building contractors that encourage you to spend a lot of money on temporary repairs. Payments for temporary repairs are covered as part of your total insurance settlement. If you pay a contractor a large sum for a temporary repair job, you may not have enough money for permanent repairs. In most cases, you should be able to make the temporary repairs yourself. Ask your insurance professional for guidance.
  6. Ask the contractor to provide a certificate of insurance before any work is started. Demand that contractors carry general liability insurance and workers’ compensation coverage.
  7. Don’t pay a contractor in full until the work is complete.
  8. Do not sign over an insurance settlement check to a contractor.

A common scam is for a so-called contractor to convince a homeowner that a large deposit must be provided before repair work can begin, according to the I.I.I. Frequently, the job will be started, but not completed and these con artists are never heard from again. Another fraud scheme is to use inferior materials and perform shoddy work that is not up to code in order to pocket more profit.

While these tips are for disaster recovery, they also apply to anyone who is hiring a contractor to do work on a home.

Work with Your Insurer

If you need suggestions about who to hire or how to rebuild your home, contact your insurer or claims adjuster.

Erie Insurance has professional claims adjusters who are trained to assess your property, identify storm damage and prepare an estimate for proper repair. We can also provide recommendations for reliable and licensed contractors in your area. As always, it is your decision on who to use to repair your dwelling. If you need assistance, contact a local ERIE Agent. If you suspect fraud, call the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721.

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