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Sunday Mornings with Rania: Avoiding Scams after the Storm

Rania Mankarious
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View from a Meyerland home on April 18

The view from a Meyerland home on April 18, 2016. (Photo: Mark Greenberg) 

The images were horrific. Families losing everything. Houses and cars destroyed. Lives being forever changed. And I couldn’t help but think that with the rise of human tragedy often comes the rise of criminal opportunity.

What makes scams related to home repair particularly attractive to criminals is the reality that in Texas, residential contractors do not have to get a license. This fact leaves the door open for many to claim this title.

In the wake of a storm, many of us are physically spent and emotionally drained. We want things back to normal as soon as possible. Scammers know you feel this way and show up at your door preying on those exact emotions. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Be wary of door-to-door workers who mysteriously have a supply of materials (where are they from?) or who promise a quick turn-around at a questionably low price.
  • Don’t contract with or even allow inspections by those who come to the house uninvited. Common scenario: A roofer shows up and says they can start work immediately (due to the gravity of the situation, of course), asks for full or partial payment but never comes back. Beware – these people target elderly. They will also usually say they were sent to you by your insurance company. This is false.
  • Do your due diligence and engage in an educated search for a contractor. Talk to two or three companies, make sure they have an office, website or other business identifiers. Ask for references that are recent. 
  • Be leery of grandiose announcements of danger – your roof looks like it will cave in at any moment; it needs to be repaired today
  • Never pay for service before it’s done. Reputable contractors only ask for 10 or 20 percent of contract price. Go with the contractor to buy materials and arrange to have them delivered to your home. Never pay in cash.
  • According to the Better Business Bureau: Require a written contract agreement with anyone you hire. Be sure their name, address, license number, if applicable, and phone number are included in the contract. Read and understand the contract in its entirety, and don’t sign a blank contract. A copy of the signed contract is to be given to you at time of signature. Make sure contracts are thorough and discuss supplies to be used, scope of work to be done, payment procedures, approximate length of the job, and liability and responsibility.
  • Check the BBB’s scam tracker for more information to stay safe and, of course, check with your insurance company about policy changes or caveats that are pertinent to home repair due to a storm.

While it’s the last thing any of us should have to think of following a natural disaster, it is a reality we must understand and face. We know that scammers are out there and looking for easy targets. Don’t allow yourself to be one of them.

Our hearts and prayers go out to all of those affected by the recent flooding.

For more information on Crime Stoppers of Houston, go to crime-stoppers.org and follow Crime Stoppers on Facebook. Have topics in mind that you’d like Rania to write about? Email her directly at [email protected]. Read past Sundays with Rania posts here.

Editor's Note: Views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Buzz Magazines.

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