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Nov 022012
 November 2, 2012  Posted by  At Home, Home Improvement, Hot Deals, Real estate

Emergencies and disasters like Superstorm Sandy bring out the best in us – and the worst. The Federal Trade Commission reminds us that scams and rip-offs often follow disasters.

Fraudsters target disaster-affected areas, hoping to cash in on property owners’ insurance settlements and financial relief from the federal government. Here’s how to protect yourself against home repair frauds:

  • Ask for copies of the contractor’s general liability and worker’s compensation insurance, and don’t work with any contractor who can’t provide it.  That will protect you from being sued if a worker is injured on your premises.
  • Before you even let anybody inside who just shows up at your damaged home, get an ID.  Look at their car or truck for an in-state license plate, signage on the side with a local address and phone number, or both.
  • Ask for references.
  • Check out the contractor’s record with your local Better Business Bureau.
  • Ask to see copies of licenses. Some cities, counties and states allow you to verify licenses online and check to see if complaints have been filed. You might also be able to check county court records for lawsuits.
  • Get more than one estimate for repairs or service, and read each contract carefully.
  • Avoid paying more than the minimum in advance. Never pay more than one-third up front, and never pay cash, except for the down payment. Get a receipt for each payment, which you’ll need for your insurance claim.  As I wrote on NYC on the Cheap, you’ll need the same documents if you are filing a claim with FEMA.

You may have lost your belongings, but hopefully you haven’t lost your common sense.

Video: Save money and energy with quick home repairs

This advice also applies to anyone hiring a contractor, even if you haven’t experienced a disaster. Even if you weren’t affected by Superstorm Sandy, it’s a good idea to build up a file of contractors you can use in the future, recommends the Washington Post.

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Evelyn Kanter

Evelyn Kanter is an award-winning journalist who has been reporting on good deals and warning about bad ones, for longer than she cares to admit publicly. A native and lifelong New Yorker, she was the first consumer reporter for CBS News and for WABC TV “Eyewitness News” and helped launch the “Sales and Bargains” column in New York Magazine. Evelyn is the author or editor of more than a dozen travel guidebooks and apps, including Peaceful Places New York City, and owns and operates NYC On The Cheap and EcoXplorer. A long-time tree-hugger, Evelyn also writes about green travel, green cars and saving the green in your wallet for national and regional publications, including a column syndicated by Motor Matters and for, AAA magazines and airline inflights.

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