CLEVELAND, Ohio -- State and federal disaster officials warn that every disaster has its share of con artists trying to take advantage of disaster victims, so residents should be careful who they let into their homes or hire to make repairs.
While no specific cases have been reported, if applicants' homes were damaged by the recent storms, and someone appears at their door claiming to be a disaster or FEMA official, residents should ask for identification.
Depending on residents' needs, inspectors from one or more agencies may visit applicants' homes after they have registered for disaster assistance. These inspectors will be able to show official photo IDs to prove their identity. If applicants have any concerns, they should contact their local law enforcement agency.
Some people may show up at the door and may recommend that residents make expensive or unnecessary repairs. Others may offer to process disaster applications for a fee. Residents should know that disaster inspectors do not recommend repairs and NEVER charge a fee for any inspection of a home.
Ohio Emergency Management Agency and Federal Emergency Management Agency officials offered the following suggestions to individuals:
- Use reliable, licensed contractors – Demand to see a license. Check with the Better Business Bureau to make sure the firm has no outstanding consumer complaints or call the Ohio Attorney General's Consumer Hotline (1-800-382-5516).
- Get a written estimate – Obtain a written estimate and read the fine print. Get estimates from several reputable contractors before making a decision. Hire local contractors if possible.
- Check references - Call former customers who had similar work done to see if they were satisfied with the job.
- Proof of insurance – Make sure the contractor carries general liability insurance, workers' compensation and is bonded; otherwise the resident can be held liable for accidents that occur on the property.
- Ask for a written contract - A complete contract should clearly state all the work to be performed, all associated costs, the payment schedule and obligate the contractor to pay for all materials ordered. Never sign a blank contract.
- Get permits – Make sure the contract clearly states who will obtain the necessary permits. Have a lawyer review the contract if substantial costs are involved. Keep a copy of the signed contract.
- Written guarantees – If the contractor provides any guarantees, they should be written into the contract clearly stating what is guaranteed, who is responsible for the guarantee, and how long the guarantee is valid.
- Pay by checks – Avoid advance payments and cash payments if possible. A reasonable down payment is 30 percent of the total cost of the project. Federal law requires a three-day "cooling off" period for unsolicited door-to-door sales of more than $25.
- Canceling a contract – Canceling a contract should be done within three business days of signing. Send notification by registered mail.
- Make final payments only when work is completed – Do not sign completion papers or make the final payment until the work is completed satisfactorily. A reputable contractor will not threaten you or pressure a resident to sign if the job is not finished properly.
FEMA manages federal response and recovery efforts following any national incident. FEMA also initiates mitigation activities, works with state and local emergency managers, and manages the National Flood Insurance Program. FEMA became a part of t...