The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, and the Louisiana Attorney General are offering advice to victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on how to avoid unscrupulous contractors and people posing as contractors.
“If you have disaster-related damages, we urge you to be very careful when contracting for repairs,” said Scott Wells, deputy federal coordinating officer. “We don’t want you to become a victim a second time.”
Federal employees carry official photo identification. Applicants may receive a visit from more than one inspector or verifier. If people represents themselves as federal employees but do not produce identification, residents should ask to see it. Sometimes, people pose as inspectors and insist on expensive and/or unnecessary repairs. Also, con artists may offer to process disaster applications for a fee. Remember, true disaster inspectors do not recommend repairs and never charge a fee for any inspection of homes.
Disaster officials caution residents first to receive written estimates from contractors before signing contracts or making down payments. Avoid offers that seem too good to refuse. As well, people should check references before deciding which contractor to choose.
“Be especially alert for door-to-door solicitors who ask for large cash deposits or entire payments in advance,” said Col. Jeff Smith, state coordinating officer. “Sometimes the work is never performed and the down payment is never returned.”
Residents may check with local permit officials, builders’ associations, and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) if they have questions about specific contractors. Disaster victims may call the Baton Rouge BBB at 225-346-5222 or log on to their Web site at www.batonrouge.bbb.org to get information or to lodge a complaint.
Officials also suggest hurricane victims call the Louisiana State Attorney General’s Consumer Protection number at 1-800-351-4889, or visit their Web site at www.ag.state.la.us, for questions and concerns about hiring a contractor.
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