Beware, and Be Aware, When Contracting for Disaster Repairs

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Release date: 
November 22, 2011
Release Number: 
1998-023

WEST DES MOINES, IOWA -- After a disaster, contractors play a major role in rebuilding an affected community. They can also give the local economy a major boost as they construct new homes and businesses.

At the same time, consumers need to be aware that occasionally scam artists masquerade as legitimate contractors in the wake of a disaster.

Some might offer to clean up your debris, but then dump it nearby, leaving you liable for the cleanup. Others might demand a big deposit up front to rebuild a home, and then vanish with your money.

“Take the time to check out the people you hire,” said Michael R. Scott, Federal Coordinating Officer for the federally-declared 2011 Missouri River flooding disaster in Iowa’s western counties. “It’s important for a consumer to always check a contractor’s credentials.”

State Coordinating Officer Patrick J. Hall added, “Don’t let yourself be victimized twice. Finding a reputable, reliable contractor is an important part of the recovery process.”

Federal and state disaster officials recommend that disaster survivors:

  • Use only reliable licensed local contractors. When contracting locally, consumers will be able to more easily locate the contractor to resolve issues if they arise. Ask to see official credentials.
  • Be wary of anyone knocking on doors of damaged homes, or phoning, claiming to be an approved building contractor, government official, or a FEMA-authorized contractor. FEMA does not authorize builders or contractors. Even if they show official-looking ID, these people might be con artists, especially if they ask for personal information or solicit money.
  • FEMA inspectors may visit a home or business to verify damages, but they will never recommend that you hire a specific contractor. Nor will federal or state employees ever solicit or accept money for public services in disaster assistance or recovery.
  • Safeguard your personal information. Be cautious when giving out personal information, such as Social Security or bank account numbers. If an encounter seems suspicious, do not hesitate to call local law enforcement authorities or the FEMA Disaster Fraud toll-free hotline at (866) 720-5721.
  • To check if a contractor has been approved for disaster-related work, you can look up the desired contractor by name or registration number and review the list of counties for which that contractor has received approval on www.iowa.gov/pages/search?q=contractors.
  • The Consumer Protection Division of the Iowa Attorney General’s Office is also a source for information on contractors, and other topics related to cleaning up, repairing and rebuilding after a disaster. Visit their website at www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.gov.
  • To check the contractor’s record, you can also contact the Better Business Bureau in your community to make sure the company has no outstanding consumer complaints.
  • Always get a written estimate. Compare services and prices of several reputable contractors before making your final decision.
  • Check references. Call former customers who had similar work done, just to make sure they were satisfied with the job.
  • Check to see whether the contractor carries general liability insurance, and make sure the contractor carries workers’ compensation. If the contractor is not insured, then you, the disaster survivor, may be liable for accidents that occur on the property, or to the house or building.
  • Ask for a written contract. Never sign a blank contract or one with blank spaces. If substantial costs are involved, have a lawyer review the contract. Insist the contract include start and completion dates.
  • Pay by check. Avoid on-the-spot cash payments. The saf...
Last Updated: 
July 16, 2012 - 18:46
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