PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- As people rebuild following the flooding, many victims will seek contractor services to help in the process. Most contractors are reputable, hard-working individuals. Some people, however, try to take advantage of urgent repair needs in the wake of a disaster. Don't be a victim twice.
Individuals who think they have been victimized by fraud or suspect fraudulent activity should call the New Jersey Office of Attorney General's Consumer Affairs Division at 1-800-242-5846
State Coordinating Officer Lt. Ed O'Neil warns homeowners, "Be especially alert for door-to-door solicitors who hand out make-shift flyers and ask for large cash deposits or advance payments in full."
"As always, if the offer seems too good to be true," said Federal Coordinating Officer Pete Martinasco, "it probably is."
He suggests look first to licensed local contractors who have performed well in the past. If they cannot help you, ask them to recommend a reputable contractor. Some building departments and trade associations keep lists of contractors who work in the community. If you must hire someone whom you do not know, talk to several contractors before signing anything.
A wise consumer should:
- Check on the firm's reputation. The Better Business Bureau, homebuilders' association or trade council are good sources of information. Ask if the firm in question has had unanswered complaints filed against it.
- Ask for proof of insurance. Be sure that the contractor has disability and workers' compensation insurance. If the contractor is uninsured, you may be liable for accidents on your property.
- Ask for references. Contractors should be willing to provide names of previous customers. Call them and ask if they would hire the contractor again.
- Ask for a written estimate. Check it to make sure it includes everything you expect the contractor to do as well as costs for taxes or other fees. Some contractors charge for an estimate, which is understandable because they're very busy after a disaster.
- Ask for a written contract. Never sign a blank contract. State all tasks to be performed, all associated costs, payment schedule and who is responsible for applying for necessary permits and licenses.
- Ask for a written guarantee. This should state what is guaranteed, who is responsible and how long the guarantee is valid.
- Pay by check. Avoid on-the-spot cash payments.
- Cancel quickly. You may cancel a contract within three business days of signing. Be sure to follow contract cancellation clauses.
Again, individuals who believe they have been victimized by fraud or suspect fraudulent activity should call 1-800-242-5846. Be a wise consumer.