St. Paul, MN -- If you were affected by the severe winter storms, flooding and tornadoes, you should be aware that some unscrupulous contractors may try to take advantage of you. Every disaster has its share of con artists, so be careful who you let into your home.
State and federal disaster officials said if your house or business suffered damage, always ask for identification of anyone claiming to be a federal inspector or verifier and be cautious in choosing contracting services.
"If you have disaster--related damages, I urge you to be very careful when contracting for repairs," James Roche, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) coordinating officer, said.
"Be especially alert for door--to--door solicitors who ask for large cash deposits or entire payments in advance," Kevin Leuer, director and state coordinating officer for the Minnesota Division of Emergency Management, said. "Often the work is never performed or the down payment is never returned."
Leuer also cautions residents not to sign contracts or make down payments without first receiving written estimates from contractors and to avoid offers which seem too good to refuse. He also advises people to ask for references and to check with relatives, friends or neighbors before deciding which contractor to choose.
Depending on your needs, inspectors from one or more agencies may visit your home after you have registered for disaster assistance. Federal employees carry official photo identification. If someone represents themselves as a federal employee but does not produce identification, residents are urged to ask to see it. FEMA damage verifiers and those with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) do not recommend repairs and NEVER charge a fee for any inspection of your home.
"If someone posing as a federal employee or federal contractor attempts to collect money for their help, report the person and their vehicle number to your local police department," said Roche.
Disaster victims in Greater Minnesota should call the Minnesota State Attorney General's Consumer Division at 800 657--3787 -- in the Cities the number is 651 296--3353 -- if they have concerns about people misrepresenting themselves as contractors.