Tragedy and disaster generally results in an out-pouring of community aid: neighbors helping neighbors clean debris, emergency aid services providing food and shelter and citizens everywhere donating clothing and supplies.
But too often, on the other side of goodwill stands an opportunistic scam artist waiting to pounce on the desperate and hurting. Consumer advocate Clark Howard, whose nationally syndicated radio show is heard locally on WSB-AM 750, provided tips on how to avoid getting scammed by people claiming to help in flood recovery efforts.
1. The answer to everybody is ‘No.’
“Unless you have a pre-existing relationship with a contractor, or you have a neighbor whose had experience with them, you have to say no or you’re in for heartache later. In these times, it’s like locusts invade within hours.”
2. Call your homeowner’s insurance company
“Even if someone doesn’t have insurance that covers whatever happened, call the homeowner’s insurance company and get referrals from them. Then, your insurer is your best best.”
3. Check referral Web sites
“Try Web sites like Kudzo.com or Yelp.com, and see if there is a company that has at least 10 recommendations. They need at least that many before you can rely on them. If not, you really can’t take them seriously.”
4. Be aware of red flags
“The people who are good at this are very charming and very non-specific. They have no meaningful local address or local phone number. If they do, it might be an answering service or their cellphone is their whole company. There should be some sense of permanence and a local presence.”
5. Don’t pay up front
“Do not give money up front, period. When it comes to water damage and having carpet removed and Sheetrock, you can get into real serious trouble and get taken.”
Use common sense and rely on concrete information to avoid being duped by all the phony contractors who emerge to take advantage of people in a vulnerable state.
Said Howard: “There are people in this area with a good heart and are trying to help. If you guess wrong and you give away your money, you’re not going to get it back. You have to be so careful. I want people to be cautious.”
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