Home repair scams sweep in after superstorm Sandy
Disasters bring out the best in most people, but they also bring out the worst in some.
While first responders work around the clock to stabilize Long Beach Island in New Jersey so that residents can return to their homes, looters are trying to sneak onto the island by boat.
It's horrible, but it's the unfortunate reality.
That's why you can bet that every crook on the East Coast will be trying to take advantage of the damage caused by superstorm Sandy to run every home repair scam in the book.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says that you should be wary of anyone who:
- Is going door-to-door soliciting business.
- Wants to be paid in full up front or only in cash.
- Has no business address.
- Won't show ID. If you're hiring a contractor in New Jersey, he or she must have a Home Repair Contractor License. In New York, it's a Home Improvement Contractor License.
- Asks you to disclose personal financial information.
- Rushes you into signing something without giving you a chance to read it. Some contractors will even try to force you to sign a blank paper. Don't do it.
Be particularly wary of any contractor who tries to steer you toward a lender he or she recommends.
You may not be dealing with a legitimate workman, but with a front man working for unscrupulous lenders.
The lender will charge you fees and claim to pay the amount you borrowed directly to the fake contractor. The contractor does a shoddy job — or no job at all — and disappears.
When you complain, the lender says that's your problem. You're still on the hook to repay the loan, and if you don't, it will foreclose on your house.
Before you hire a contractor, don't hesitate to check his or her reviews on sites like Yelp.com, Service Magic or Angie's List.
Remember, consumer review sites aren't always 100% fair, but they're a good place to get an overall idea of the contractor's track record.
And before you do anything, contact your insurance company. Not only will you get rolling on filing your claim, you'll be able to get a list of vetted contractors.
This is a stressful, emotional time, and awful people will try to take advantage of that.
You've already been a victim of the storm. Don't become the victim or a crook running home repair scams.