AARP warns homeowners of scam artists
In the aftermath of Sandy, comes "storm chasers," aka rip-off repair people, who descend on areas after a natural disaster looking to scam those in need of home repairs.
Homeowners facing major repairs following Hurricane Sandy should be on alert for scam artists hoping to prey on older adults. AARP Pennsylvania wants to alert people about common contractor scams during a time when members may be most vulnerable.
First, check with your insurance company to see what your policy covers. Save all receipts, including those for food, hotel or other expenses that may be covered under your policy.
Before doing any major repair, get at least three estimates, making sure the contractor is licensed and insured to do business in your area. Never hire a contractor on the spot. Be suspicious of door-to-door salesmen using high pressure tactics, especially those who show up without an appointment and offer to do the job. Check out repair companies by looking for consumer reviews on the BBB website and on social media sites such as Yelp or Angie's list.
AARP Pennsylvania also recommends you avoid the paperless contractor. Reject anyone who has no business card or company fliers (or who lists a P.O. box instead of a street address). This will assist in your vetting process. It is also best to make sure to get a written contract, specifying what work will be done, the materials that will be used and the price breakdown for labor and materials. Any promises made verbally should be written into the contract, including warranties. Also, make sure you have time to read the contract fully.
Lastly, never pay in advance or in cash. While some companies may ask for a deposit, consumer advocates suggest paying no more than one-third of the job in advance. Deposits or upfront fees should not exceed 25 percent of the estimate. Pay them only after materials reach your home and work begins.
Problems with home improvement consistently rank among the top five complaints by the PA Office of Attorney General. That's why AARP pushed to win approval of the Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act in 2008 that requires contractors performing $5,000 of home improvements per year to register with the Attorney General's Office.
Consumers can find out if contractors are registered with the state by visiting the Attorney General's website or calling toll free 1-888-520-6680.