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How to avoid storm-chasing scammers

Scam-proof home after storm to avoid contractor fraud

MIAMI – Local 10 News investigative reporter Christina Vazquez works every day to keep you safe from scammers.

Scam-proofing your home after a storm starts by being very careful about promises made by people who knock on your door claiming they are going to fix something.

The Call Christina team recently sat down with Lucia Robelo of Synergy HomeCare in Miami.

Synergy HomeCare recently created the Senior Scam Alert Guide, which includes some of the most commonly used cons by criminals against seniors.

Robelo said a big problem area is contractor fraud.

"People who will come to their homes, promise they are going to fix something, they pay in advance and they never show up again," Robelo said.

BE SKEPTICAL:

Federal regulators say the best way to scam-proof your home after a storm is to be skeptical.

*Ask the contractor for a current license and certificate of insurance.

*Put all promises and timeline for completion in writing.

*Avoid demands for large sums up front or payment by cash.

CHECK WITH YOUR INSURANCE COMPANY:

If the contractor tells you the work will be covered by your insurance, call your insurance company first to confirm.

National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) investigator James "Herb" Price told  Vazquez that after a big storm, some unscrupulous roofers will talk homeowners into a new roof after they manufacture damage.

"It always behooves you to look at your policies, know what your coverage is, know what you're covered for and you shouldn't sign over any document that's going to give your rights away," Price said. "It's your home, it's your insurance company. You have a right to contact your insurance company."

Scam-proofing your home after a storm

NICB CONTRACTOR CHECKLIST:

•             Work only with licensed and insured contractors.

•             Get more than one estimate.

•             Don't be pressured into signing a contract right away.

•             Get everything in writing: cost, work to be completed, time schedule, guarantees, payment schedule and any other expectations.

•             Require references, ask for the names of the contractor's last three jobs.

•             Never sign a contract with blanks. Fraudulent contractors may enter unacceptable terms later.

•             Never pay a contractor in full or sign a completion certificate until the work is completed.

•             Make sure you review and understand all documents sent to your insurance carrier.

•             Ask to see the person's driver's license and write it down. Also, get the vehicle's license plate number.

What you should know before hiring a contractor

VERIFY A LICENSE

According to Daniel Vuelta, supervisor of the contractor investigation section for the Miami-Dade County Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources, your first step should be to verify a license.

"First thing that someone needs to do is ask if the person is licensed, and then verify with the department if they are licensed," Vuelta said. "Ask if the license is legitimate, who it belongs to, and what service the person and/or company is licensed to perform."

PAPER TRAIL:

Make sure everything is in writing.

The Federal Trade Commission also recommends paying with a credit card or check. If a contractor asks for a deposit or full payment in cash, stop. That's a warning sign that something is not right.

Vuelta said consumers should make sure everything is in writing and require receipts.

"Never pay anybody in cash, and if somebody is asking you to pay them in cash that is a big red flag," he said. "Never leave a verbal contract, always put contracts in writing."

Call Christina team offers consumer protection tips for contractor fraud

REPORT IT:

If you think you are a victim of contractor fraud, report it to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR), your local building and zoning department and to police.

"If it is a licensed contractor the case would be held before a construction licensing board to make a determination if the contractor is in fact guilty of whatever the property owner is accusing him of," Vuelta said. "If it is an unlicensed contractor, then the case is handled criminally. What we want to do is make the homeowner whole."

There are also home insurance implications if an unlicensed contractor performs a job at your home without proper permitting or that doesn't meet code. 

Lt. Efren Lopez of Miami-Dade County Police Department's Economic Crimes Bureau said you may pay more for a licensed contractor than an unlicensed contractor, but that added expense could save you from a potential financial nightmare down the road.

"There are plenty of contractors out there that are legitimate, but there are quite a few that are not," Lopez said. "And with these illegal contractors, you have no protection against them if you knowingly hire them. If they do a poor job, or they do jobs beyond the regulations of the county, you are going to get fined by the county. If somebody's injured on the job, you are responsible for those injuries because an illegitimate company will not have the insurance coverage necessary."

ASK FOR REFERRALS:

Referrals from friends and family are greatbut make sure you do your own background check. That includes:

Other departments to check are:

Also, don't ask the contractor for his references. Instead, ask for the names and numbers for the last three to five jobs he's worked on.

VIDEO WEB EXTRAS: What to do before hiring a contractor

Call Christina conversation about contractor concerns with Ray Robinson