Scammers may take advantage of Henri flood victims. Here’s how to prevent becoming a victim
People across the tri-state area are still coping with the damage from Henri, but law enforcement officials are already warning of a new threat: scammers who could victimize some of them for a second time.
When their home was damaged by Superstorm Sandy, Jeannie Kanterezhi and Gabrielle Gatto of Toms River, New Jersey, hired a man who stopped by the house, offering to make repairs.
“He even said ‘We're neighbors. I'm right here and I want to help,’” Gatto recalled.
What they didn’t know was that the contractor was unlicensed. He did a little work, and then walked off the job, leaving them out more than $18,000. They took him to court and won a judgment, but were never able to collect a penny.
It’s a story that happens far too often. According to a recent report by the Consumer Federation of America, home improvements are the second most common source of consumer fraud complaints, and advocates say they often skyrocket in the aftermath of a severe storm like Henri. They warn homeowners to beware of contractors who go door-to-door soliciting business, contractors they’ve nicknamed “storm chasers."
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“They move quickly. And they want to prey on people, unfortunately, when they're in a vulnerable state,” says Melissa Companick of the Better Business Bureau.
Companick says not all storm chasers are scammers, but says homeowners should be wary of anyone using high-pressure sales tactics.
“You never have to say ‘yes’ to an on-the-spot offer,” she says. “If someone is knocking on your door and says, ‘This offer is only good for today,’ that's not true.”
Instead, experts advise researching a contractor’s complaint history by checking with the New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut departments of consumer affairs. The BBB also offers ratings and complaint histories on its website.
Companick also advises consumers to get a written contract that spells out the scope of work. The contract should include a payment schedule; consumers should not pay in full upfront. She also urges consumers to pay for home repairs with a credit card, saying it’s even worth paying 3% more to be able to dispute the charge if there’s a problem.
If you’ve been approached by a scammer since Henri, you can contact Kane In Your Corner at 732-738-KANE, or firstname.lastname@example.org.