03/16/11 Reports of a potential scam artist in Knox County have prompted the Indiana Department of Homeland Security (IDHS), Indiana State Police (ISP) and the Indiana Attorney General’s office (AGO) to remind everyone who sustaines storm damage during severe weather incidents to be cautious of frauds and scams.
“Identity theft and building scams are two schemes con-artists sometimes use to defraud individuals recovering from manmade or natural disasters,” said IDHS Executive Director Joe Wainscott. “While most service providers in the building industry are honest, it is particularly important to be alert after disasters because these situations of widespread damage can attract scam artists and identity thieves.”
Individuals should be especially alert for solicitors who promise to speed up the insurance or building permit process and those who ask for large cash deposits or advance payments in full.
Some con-artists may even pretend to be employed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or other government agencies.
You can protect yourself from such impersonators and dishonest individuals by following a few precautionary guidelines.
- Ask for ID. If someone represents themselves as a federal employee, such as an inspector, but does not produce identification, ask to see it. A FEMA or U.S. Small Business Administration shirt or jacket is not absolute proof of someone’s affiliation with the government. Federal employees carry official photo identification.
- FEMA representatives are never allowed to accept money. If someone claiming to be a federal employee or federal contractor attempts to collect money for their help, report the person and their license plate number to your local police department.
- Safeguard personal information. Never give personal information such as social security numbers, bank account numbers or credit card numbers to individuals claiming to be affiliated with the federal government. FEMA inspectors never require this information.
When hiring a contractor
- Research. You may also check with the local Better Business Bureau, homebuilders’ association or trade council to independently confirm the legitimacy of a contractor.
- Check references. Contractors should be willing to provide names of previous customers. Call several former customers who had similar work done to make sure they were satisfied with the job.
- Ask for a written estimate and check to make sure it includes all the work you expect to have done, as well as taxes and other fees. Keep in mind that some contractors charge for an estimate.
- Be wary of high-pressure sales tactics. Take your time. Don’t let the contractor rush your decision.
Before signing a contract
- Get a written contract. Indiana law requires home improvement contracts exceeding $150 to be in writing. Before signing the contract, make certain it includes:
- The price of the job
- Payment schedule
- A detailed description of the work and materials (including colors, brand names and patterns)
- Estimated start and completion dates
- The contractor’s name and address
- A name and telephone number of the person to contact if problems arise
- The contractor’s signature Never pay for the entire project before the work begins. Do not pay more than 1/3 of the total cost as a down payment. Remaining payments should be tied to completion of specified amounts of work.
Hoosiers who believe they may have been a victim of a home improvement scam can file a complaint with the attorney general’s Consumer Protection Division. The complaint form is available for downloading at www.IndianaConsumer.com or call 1-800-382-5516 to request a form by mail.