Hurricane clean-up – watch out for scams

Pensacola, Fla. – In the wake of Hurricane Sally, consumers are evaluating the damage done and have started the cleanup process. Better Business Bureau receives hundreds of complaints every year concerning sub-par work performed by contractors, and encourages consumers to take the time to properly research contractors to avoid creating a bigger problem.

Natural disasters can bring out the best in people, as strangers reach out to help others in need. Unfortunately, the aftermath of a crisis typically also brings out many types of scams and unlicensed contractors who take advantage of those who have been victimized.

BBB serving Northwest Florida warns residents who have been affected by Hurricane Sally to beware of out-of-town “storm chasers” and contractors soliciting business.

Disaster victims should never feel pressured by an unknown contractor to make a decision, Norman Wright, BBB CEO and President, says. “Storm chasers may not have proper licensure for your area and may offer quick fixes or make big promises to which they won’t deliver.”

BBB offers the following tips for hurricane Sally victims:

  • Before you hire, check out the company/contractor at www.bbb.org. It’s fast, easy and free. Also search the company/contractor online, adding the word “Complaint,” “Reviews” or “Scam” after the name for different search results. If you do not have internet access, please call our office at 429.0002 and someone will help you with your request.
  • BBBs “Disaster Recovery Repairing and Rebuilding Guide” provides helpful resources to aid in clean-up and repair efforts. Find it at https://www.bbb.org/northwest-florida/hurricanes/disaster-recovery/
  • Contractors must be registered with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, unless work is limited to a specific area. To check licensing, call 850-487-1395, download the app named “DBPR mobile” or go online to www.myfloridalicense.com to check whether a contractor is registered. Contractors who limit their work to local areas might only be required to secure a license with their county in lieu of DBPR. Check with your local county contractors’ certification/building department if you are unsure if a contractor has secured proper licensing.
  • Many municipalities require a solicitation permit if sales people go door-to- door. Verify that they need to have a permit by contacting your local municipality. BBB suggests consumers be proactive in selecting a contractor and not reactive to sales calls on the phone or door-to-door pitches. Always ask for identification and contact the company directly should you have any concerns.
  • While most roofing contractors abide by the law, be careful allowing someone you do not know inspect your roof. An unethical contractor may actually create damage to get work.
  • Understand Assignment of Benefits contracts. Beware of contractors who claim to be insurance claim specialists and who might ask you to sign an agreement to allow them to contact your insurance company and seek approval of repairs for you. Many unscrupulous businesses have tricked consumers into signing a work estimate without reading the fine print, which commits you to automatically contract with their business if your insurance claim is approved.
  • Try to get at least three or four quotes from contractors, and insist that payments be made to the company, not an individual.
  • Do not pay for the job in advance. Be wary of any contractor who demands full or half payment upfront and anyone that insists those payments need to be in cash.
  • Resist high-pressure sales tactics such as the “good deal” you’ll get only if you hire the contractor on the spot.
  • Get a written contract that specifies the price, the work to be done, the amount of liability insurance coverage maintained by the contractor, and a time frame. Anything that is discussed in person needs to be in the contract. Require a copy of their current certificate of insurance.
  • Pay by credit card, if possible; you might have additional protection if there’s a problem.
  • Check that the contractor’s vehicle has signs or markings on it with the business name, phone number and license plates for Florida.
  • Mold assessors and remediators must hold an active license with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations. You can review the status by going to www.myfloridalicense.com or by calling 850- 487-1395. The license information also should tell you how long the contractor has been licensed to perform work. Make sure the business has extensive experience in cleaning up mold. Ask for references from the business and contact these references for more information. Also, ask family and friends if they have worked with a mold remediation expert in the past and had a favorable experience.
  • Beware of price gouging for commodities or services; if there’s a “gross disparity” between the prior price and the current charge, it is considered price gouging. If you think you are being priced gouged, report it to the Price Gouging Hotline established by the Florida Attorney General’s Office at 866-9-NO-SCAM.
  • If you hire an uninsured and unlicensed contractor and a serious injury were to occur to the contractor, you, as the person who hired him, could potentially be liable for paying the workers compensation benefits. This could turn a simple $1,000 repair into a bill for tens of thousands more. In addition, a neighboring property, a passerby or other property that is negligently damaged by an unlicensed contractor can become a liability to the person that hired the contractor.

Refer to www.bbb.org/nwfl to review lists of BBB Accredited Businesses by industry and BBB Business Profiles on local businesses. Or send an email to info@nwfl.bbb.org or call 850.429.0002

Important numbers

  • BBB Serving Northwest Florida Website: www.bbb.org/nwfl Email: info@nwfl.bbb.org  Phone: 850.429.0002
  • Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation Website: www.myfloridalicense.com App: DBPR mobile Phone: 850-487-1395
  • Price Gouging Hotline 866-9-NO-SCAM (866-966-7226)