Beware fly-by-night contractors during natural disasters

Many homeowners must deal with the damage and cleanup following a natural disaster. So-called “fly-by-night” contractors often use these trying times as the perfect opportunity to take advantage of distraught homeowners. Appearing in communities right after a disaster occurs, the aim of fly-by-night contractors is profiting from the losses of their unsuspecting customers. They often do this by collecting up-front deposits from customers and moving on to the next town before the work is completed or, in some cases, even started.

So to avoid being overcharged for shoddy work (or no work at all), it’s best to not rush into any decision — only use a contractor you trust or one who is recommended by a friend or neighbor. When you do find a contractor, be sure to use PaySAFE to ensure there’s transparency for both you and the contractor during the entire duration of the job.

Here’s a list of things to avoid when hiring a contractor:

  • Door-to-door solicitations. Licensed contractors will have all the work they can handle in the midst of a disaster and will have no need to solicit door-to-door.
  • Advance payment. Always avoid paying for the entire project in advance (even with a licensed contractor). Instead, pay in installments, making sure payment is in synch with the work being done.
  • No physical address. It’s common for unlicensed contractors to only offer a cell phone number. If they don’t have a physical address, it means there’s nowhere to show up to and complain (or serve a lawsuit) if things should go wrong.
  • No references. If the contractor refuses to offer up references, you should refuse to work with them. Also, be sure to do a background check and contact any references they do offer to make sure they are legitimate and trustworthy.
  • No contract. Never hire a contractor without a contract. Instead, get as much information as possible written in the contract, including start and completion dates, payment penalties for missed completion dates, an itemized materials list and warranty information.
  • Cost too good to be true. Oftentimes fly-by-night contractors attempt to scam customers by offering extremely low prices for their work. But, as the saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Don’t sign over an insurance check. Fly-by-night contractors know that there’s plenty of insurance money floating around disaster areas. Still, you should never sign over your insurance check if they ask you to. Don’t take our word for it; the Federal Trade Commission suggests the same advice.
  • Use PaySAFE. PaySAFE acts as a do-it-yourself closing table that provides trust and integrity to both you and the contractor, ensuring payment is only be exchanged once the details of the transaction are completed and approved by both parties.

If you have any more questions or concerns about fly-by-night contractors, the National Center for the Prevention of Home Improvement Fraud (NCPHIF) Facebook page is a great resource.

For more information on using PaySAFE for a home improvement project, check out how it works on our website.

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Photo: Flickr

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