Wise, VA -- State and federal disaster recovery officials advise Virginia residents who have disaster-related damage to be careful when hiring unknown contractors to clean up and repair their homes and businesses.
"It's unfortunate, but disasters often bring scam artists into the area to take advantage of the situation," said Federal Coordinating Officer Louis Botta. "Some scam artists claim to be 'FEMA certified.' The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) neither certifies nor endorses any private-sector contractor."
Residents must be especially alert for door-to-door solicitors who hand out make-shift flyers and promise to speed up the insurance or government claims process.
State Coordinating Officer Michael Cline said, "All FEMA and Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) personnel carry photo identification and flood victims should never hesitate to ask to see it."
Emergency management officials also offer the following suggestions on how to be a wise consumer:
- Use reliable, licensed contractors. Call the Better Business Bureau
of Western Virginia (1-800-533-5501) to inquire about a business before
signing a contract.
- Get a written estimate. Be sure to obtain a written estimate for
the job and read the fine print. Compare the services and prices of
several reputable contractors before making a final decision. Hire local
contractors, if possible. Some contractors charge a fee for an estimate,
which is often applied to the price of subsequent repairs they make.
- Check references. Contractors should be willing to provide the names
of previous customers. Call several former customers who had similar
work done to make sure they were satisfied with the job.
- Ask for proof of insurance. Make sure the contractor carries general
liability insurance and workers' compensation. If the contractor is
not insured, the homeowner may be liable for accidents that occur on
the property or to the house/building.
- Insist on a written contract. A complete contract should clearly
state all the tasks to be performed, all associated costs and the payment
schedule. Never sign a blank contract or one with blank spaces. Make
sure the contract clearly states who will apply for the necessary permits
or licenses. Have a lawyer review the contract, if substantial costs
are involved, and keep a copy for your records.
- Get any guarantees in writing. Any guarantees made by the contractor
should be written into the contract. The guarantee should clearly state
what is guaranteed, who is responsible for the guarantee and how long
the guarantee is valid.
- Have work inspected. If excavation work is being performed (e.g.,
sewers or basement walls) make sure a qualified inspector examines the
work before it is hidden from view to avoid similar problems in the
- Make final payments when the work is completed. Do not sign completion
papers or make the final payment until the work is completed to your
satisfaction. A reputable contractor will not threaten you or pressure
you to sign if the job is not finished properly.
- Pay by check. Avoid on-the-spot cash payments. The safest route is
to write a check to the contracting company. A reasonable down payment
is 30 percent of the total cost of the project, to be paid upon initial
delivery of materials. Federal law gives consumers a three-day "cooling
off" period for unsolicited door-to door sales of more than $25.