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How to avoid after disaster repair rip-offs

With all of the things you've got to worry about following the destruction of or damage to your home by a natural disaster, add "hire reputable contractor" to that list. The Federal Trade Commission and National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) have prepared some informative tips to help you do that.

NICB is a not-for-profit organization funded by about 1,000 property/casualty insurance companies and self-insured organizations. The Federal Trade Commission is an agency of the federal government which provides consumers with education and resources to assist them with business issues and questions.

Following a disaster, contractors looking for work may go door-to-door, offering to perform the necessary repairs. NICB advises to not pay up front for work to be done, since some dishonest contractors may pocket the payment and disappear, use inferior materials to complete the job, or not complete the work according to local building codes.

Here's what to do before hiring a contractor:

  • Get more than one estimate. Don't be pushed into signing a contract right away;
  • Deal only with licensed and insured contractors;
  • Get everything in writing: cost, work to be done, time schedule, guarantees, payment schedule, and other expectations;
  • Get recommendations from family, friends, and co-workers and demand references and check them. Also call your local Better Business Bureau and Home Builders Association, insurance agents, and claims adjusters;
  • Ask to see the driver's license of the person who is selling you services. Write down the license plate number of his or her vehicle and a description;
  • Be wary of contractors who encourage you to spend a lot of money on temporary repairs – make sure you have enough money for permanent repairs;
  • Never pay in full or sign a completion certificate until the work is finished and inspected;
  • Remember, insurance coverage may be rendered void if intentional misrepresentation by a policyholder is discovered;
  • If you believe you've been approached by an unlicensed contractor or adjuster, or have been encouraged to fabricate an insurance claim, contact your insurer or call the NICB hotline at (800) TEL-NICB; and
  • If you suspect a home repair rip-off, contact the Consumer Division of your State Attorney General’s Office. If you suspect fraud, waste or abuse involving Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster assistance programs, report it to FEMA’s Inspector General’s Office.

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