Storm victims say they’ve already encountered questionable contractors as state warns of scammers

NEWNAN, Ga. — As thousands of people look to repair their homes after the storm, state officials are warning people to beware of scammers.

A massive EF-4 tornado ripped through the city of Newnan last week and Channel 2′s Tyisha Fernandes has learned that scammers are already knocking on people’s doors there as they continue to clean up from the storm.

“We’ve had lots of people knock on the door. So, yeah, we’re being careful,” storm victim Kim Wright said.

It’s hard to imagine that anyone would try and take advantage of people who are dealing with this kind of storm damage to their homes. But the scamming contractors are out there.

Wright told Fernandes that she hasn’t even had time to file her insurance claim yet and a few questionable contractors have already knocked on her door.

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“Were you able to tell they were a little shady right away?” Fernandes asked Wright.

“Not always. They come dressed very professionally most of the time and they want to help it seems like, so you just have to be careful, do your homework and look at their reviews to see what’s going on with them I think,” Wright said.

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said this happens after every storm and the number one thing to remember is that you should never use a contractor who is canvassing neighborhoods.

Insurance agent Deidre Bembry told Fernandes that she agrees with that advice.

“With devastation comes desperation. That’s something we see all the time,” Bembry said. “Be very weary of people just approaching you because most people aren’t walking up and canvassing neighborhoods. A lot of the reputable businesses are not doing that.”

Before you choose a company to do the work, ask for referrals, do your research online and don’t rush to make a decision.

“Even though it feels like this is a pressure situation and you have to decide now, choosing the wrong person could be something that keeps you from recovering properly here,” Bembry said.

Here is a list of warnings that the Attorney General’s Office says you should look out for:

  • Avoid door-to-door offers for home repair work. Instead, ask friends and neighbors for referrals.
  • Steer clear of any contractor who asks for full payment up-front, only accepts payment in cash, or who refuses to provide you with a written contract.
  • Ask contractors for three references of customers who had projects similar to yours, and check them out.
  • Get written bids from at least three contractors. Be skeptical if the bid is too low. Cheaper is not necessarily better.
  • Always insist on a contract for work to be performed, with all guarantees, warranties and promises in writing. Agree on start and completion dates and have them written into the contract.
  • Never pay for the entire project before the work begins. Consider paying no more than one-third of the total cost as a down payment, with remaining payments tied to completion of specified amounts of work, and the final payment not due until the job is completed.
  • Be skeptical of any contractor that offers to pay your insurance deductible or offers other no-cost incentives, as these can be signs of fraud. You should always talk to your insurance company before committing to any repairs or even allowing a roofer to inspect your roof for any damage.
  • Check with the Better Business Bureau (bbb.org) too if there are any complaints against the business.
  • Make sure that the tree removal has a valid arborist license by visiting the International Society of Arboriculture’s website at www.isa-arbor.com.
  • Make sure that general contractors, electricians, plumbers and heating and air conditioning contractors are licensed by going to the Secretary of State’s website at sos.georgia.gov.

If you think that you may have been the victim of home repair fraud, you can contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division by visiting consumer.ga.gov or by calling 404-651-8600 or 1-800-869-1123.