Post hurricane, 'storm chasers,' appear

Nov. 1, 2012 at 5:23 PM
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NEW YORK, Nov. 1 (UPI) -- Finding competent U.S. contractors is a time-consuming and stressful process when the sun shines, but after a disaster it's easy to be scammed, the AARP says.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, along with repairs and clean up, comes rip-off repairmen, scam artists often called "storm chasers," who descend almost immediately on areas hit hard by natural disasters, a statement by the AARP said.

Those who have storm damage should first check with their insurance company to see what their policy covers. Save all receipts, including those for food, hotel or other expenses that may be covered under your policy, the AARP advised.

Before hiring a contractor, the AARP recommends:

-- Before doing any major repair, get at least three estimates.

-- Make sure the contractor is licensed and insured to do business in your area.

-- Never hire a contractor on the spot. Check out repair companies on the Better Business Bureau website and on social media sites such as Yelp or Angie's list.

-- Avoid the paperless contractor who has no business cards, company fliers or who lists a post office box instead of a street address.

-- Get a written contract, specifying what work will be done, the materials that will be used and the price breakdown for labor and materials. Any promises should added in writing.

-- Never pay in full in advance -- or in cash. Consumer advocates suggest paying no more than one-third of the job in advance.

Kia Ricchi, a Florida licensed contractor and consultant, said he shows homeowners how to verify contractor licensing and insurance online using government websites at:

"A building permit is important because it helps ensure that the work is code-compliant and that the contractor meets the state's requirements for contracting," Ricchi, author of "Avoiding the 'con' in construction," said in a statement. "Beware of the contractor who asks you to pull a permit because it may indicate that the contractor is unqualified to do so. It also transfers responsibility and potential risk to you."

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