ROCKFORD, Ill. -- Watch out for scam artists. That is the warning issued by officials with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).
"Unfortunately in disaster situations, scam artists are often ready to take advantage of the misfortunes of others," said IEMA Director Andrew Velasquez, III. "People should be especially alert for phone or door-to-door solicitors who hand out flyers and promise to speed up the insurance or building permit process and those who ask for large cash deposits or advance payments in full."
Federal Coordinating Officer Tony Russell said, "Whether they are architectural, engineering, electrical, or general contractors, most service providers in the building industry are honest, but all too often disasters attract scam artists. Some claim to be state or FEMA certified, when, in fact, neither the state nor FEMA certifies or endorses any contractor."
FEMA inspectors may come to your neighborhood and all FEMA inspectors will have proper photo identification. Remember, FEMA and SBA inspectors never charge applicants for disaster assistance or for inspections.
If you suspect contractor fraud, call the Illinois Attorney General Hotline for Consumer Fraud at 1-800-386-5438 or on-line www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov or contact your local Better Business Bureau.
If you suspect fraud, waste or abuse involving FEMA disaster assistance programs, report it to FEMA's Inspector General 1-800-323-8603.
Keep the following tips in mind when hiring a contractor:
- Get a written estimate. Compare services and prices before making a final decision. Also, read the fine print. Some contractors charge a fee for a written estimate, which is often applied to the cost of subsequent repairs they make.
- Check references. Contractors should be willing to provide 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.
- Use reliable, licensed contractors. Call your local Better Business Bureau (and other local sources) to inquire about a business before signing a contract.
- Insist on a written contract. A complete contract should state clearly all 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 guarantees in writing. Any guarantees made by the contractor should be written into the contract. The guarantee should state clearly what is guaranteed, who is responsible for the guarantee and how long the guarantee is valid.
- Obtain a local building permit, if required. Permits may be required for site work including demolition and reconstruction. Contact your local government for permit information.
- 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 i...