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Avoid Home Repair Scammers after Disasters

Tuesday, July 9, 2019 - 7:00am

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Amy Myers: Today, we're talking about how to avoid home repair scammers after disasters. Hello, I'm Amy Myers, and welcome to Farm and Family. Today I have on the phone with me Susan Cosgrove, a Mississippi State University Extension area agent. Susan, we should always take necessary steps to make sure our repairmen are qualified to do good work, but why are repair scams more common after natural or manmade disasters?

Susan Cosgrove: Unfortunately, when we have natural disasters from our weather, this is when people are usually more vulnerable, and also this is the time when the demand is really high for repairs. So, this is when the fraudsters and the scammers come in, and they really hit these people up.

Amy Myers: I understand anyone can be susceptible to repair fraud and scams, but is there anyone who is most susceptible, and why?

Susan Cosgrove: Usually it's the elderly that are hit hardest. One reason is a lot of our elderly are really, really trusting of people, and their defenses are down for a lot of things, but especially for people coming in to take advantage of them in these times. They just don't recognize that they are being taken advantage of. A lot of people don't recognize signs of fraud, especially our older people.

Amy Myers: What are some questions we should always ask right off the bat when considering a person to hire for repairs?

Susan Cosgrove: You don't need to rush into the repairs no matter how badly they are needed. Of course, you need to be cautious of someone that's just coming door-to-door offering repair services or flyers or business cards that are left on your doorstep. You should always ask a contractor or anybody that comes to see you following a disaster like this, you need to ask for identification. You need to get at least three quotes. Ask for and verify references. It's good to get a written contract. If you have extensive work to get done, it's good to get a written contract. Get it in writing, all the tasks that are going to be done, and have it in writing of a payment schedule and pay by check, money order, credit card. Don't pay by cash. Don't pay by a debit card either. You should always keep a record of your payments and your receipts.

Then about the person who's going to do the work for you. Try to get a licensed contractor if you can. Where do we search out this? We have the Mississippi Board of Contractors that we can reference for this. And just asking for a list of references. Ask them, well who can I check with that you have recently done work for as well, because word-of-mouth is also a very good way to check on recent work that someone has done, especially if it's in small towns and communities where we might not be dealing with large contractors.

Amy Myers: What are some red flags or warning signs that we're being scammed?

Susan Cosgrove: If they want you to pay for the work before it's done. We don't want the payments to get ahead of the work. We have to be on the lookout too for imposters' scam. We don't want someone to come up pretending to be government officials, like a safety inspector or utility workers who are saying that we need immediate work. This is why it's so important to ask for ID. Folks also need to remember that FEMA does not charge application fees as well.

Something that I always like to remind people as well, if something sounds too good to be true, that is a warning sign. It's also good to look for signage on vehicles for local addresses and phone numbers for contractors. If a contractor refuses to give you identification, and also if they do not have a physical address, then that should also be a warning sign.

Amy Myers: And for more information or to even file a complaint, go to the Better Business Bureau at BBB.org, or call toll free, 1 (800) 987-8280. Today we've been speaking with Susan Cosgrove, extension area agent. I'm Amy Myers, and this has been Farm and Family. Have a great day.

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Department: 4-H & Family & Consumer Sciences

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