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Beware of Phony Contractors; Clean-Up Crew Scams

Tips on How to Avoid Getting Scammed On Debris Removal and Home Repairs

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, in the wake of Hurricane Irene, is encouraging residents to use caution when hiring contractors to assist with debris removal and property repairs.

“In the aftermath of this major storm, it is essential that everyone be wary of scam artists promising immediate debris removal and home repairs,” Rice said. “Some insist on advance payment for work they never do, quote outrageous prices, or simply do not possess the skills, licenses, and insurance to legally do the work. Nassau County residents need to be diligent in checking a contractor’s credentials to ensure that they are legitimate.”

Rice offered the following tips for avoiding unlicensed contractors or other scammers:

•Tree and debris removal contractors and home repair services are required to be licensed by the Nassau County Department of Consumer Affairs. A quick phone call to Consumer Affairs at (516) 571-2600 will tell you whether your contractor is licensed. Never sign any document or make any payment to a contractor before verifying their license.

•Always ask a contractor to provide their license and certificate of insurance once they are on your property. If a contractor tells you certain work is covered by your insurance, call your provider to confirm.

•Always obtain a written estimate and sign a written contract that includes a description of the work to be performed, what materials are included, when the work will be finished, the price, and the address and phone number of the contractor.  Carefully read all agreements before signing. Make sure all blanks in a bid or contract are filled in. Speak with your neighbors about what they are paying for similar work.

•After natural disasters, unlicensed contractors and scammers from outside the region or a different state often come into the affected area promising quick repairs at discount prices. Always ask contractors for references and call past clients. Write down driver’s license and vehicle information (make, model, and license plate number).

•Pay with a credit card or check and be wary of contractors who ask for cash payment or cash down payment. Negotiate a reasonable down payment with full payment to be made only upon satisfactory completion of work. Make sure that any necessary permits or government approval is obtained before making final payment.

•Use your common sense. If you have any doubts about hiring someone or entering into a contract, trust your instincts. Use the Nassau County resources to ensure that your property will be safely and legally repaired.

•If someone shows up because your property is flooded, insist on seeing proof that the “agent” represents your insurance company. Contact your provider to verify.

•Real flood insurance requires a waiting period before it goes into effect. Beware of fake insurance offers offering retroactive insurance by paying an annual premium up front.

•If you believe that you may have been the victim of a scam, call the District Attorney’s Office immediately at 571-3505 to file a complaint. The DA’s Office conducts regular stings to catch unlicensed contractors, and will be dedicating additional special resources to monitor clean-up contractors this week.

“By following these simple tips, you can protect yourself, your property, and your wallet,” Rice said. “Don’t allow yourself to be victim.”

For more information on resources available in Hurricane Irene’s aftermath, contact the Nassau County special hotline at 1-888-684-4274.