Opportunists can follow storms
BY PHIL MULKINS World Action Line Editor
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
4/18/12 at 2:36 AM
Spring has sprung, and the first roving repairmen and service people have appeared on front porches all over town.
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt warns people to beware of home-repair schemes that accompany every spring storm season.
"We know from past experience that this type of damage attracts criminals looking for ways to take advantage of Oklahomans," he said. "We're getting the message out now so people can be aware of such quick-fix schemes and spread the word to neighbors and family members before they become victims.
"Within days of storms, home and business owners will want to repair storm damage quickly, but we caution them to be patient and make sure they are using a reputable home-repair contractor," Pruitt said. "Investigators with our Public Protection Unit have prosecuted unscrupulous repair workers, commonly called 'travelers,' who follow storms across the country to profit from the misfortune of others."
Pruitt suggests the following before choosing contractors or repair services:
"Ask people you trust for referrals. Whenever possible, deal with local firms and check out repair services with the Attorney General's Public Protection Unit, accessible at tulsaworld.com/OKPubProtUnit, or by visiting visit the Attorney General's Facebook Page or calling the Public Protection Unit at 405-521-2029 or writing Public Protection Unit, Oklahoma Attorney General, 313 NE 21st St., Oklahoma City, OK 73105.
Also check the company's track record with the Tulsa Better Business Bureau at tulsaworld.com/tulsaBBB or by keying its 10-digit phone number into the bureau's automated voice information system at 918-492-1266.
Pruitt recommends you ask for customer references; get written estimates from several companies; don't do business without a written contract; get guarantees, warranties and promises in writing; agree on start and completion dates; and agree to work only as outlined in written contracts.
He cautioned Oklahomans about repair services and contractors who solicit door-to-door, offer discounts for finding other customers, just happen to have materials left over from previous jobs, accept only cash payments, pressure you for an immediate decision or ask you to pay for the entire job up front.
Pruitt said storm victims also must be aware of identity theft from lost documents and charity fraud. Charity fraud can happen with local door-to-door solicitations or emails and phone calls from overseas con artists.
"Donating to an organization that is well-known and respected in the community is the best way to combat this type of fraud," Pruitt said.
What to look for when hiring a contractor
Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel recently warned residents of that state about fraudulent contractors.
"When spring blooms, con artists come knocking, offering to improve homes and property," he said. "Spring is prime time for tricksters taking advantage of senior citizens, people living alone and families with weather-related home damage."
The Arkansas Attorney General's Office always receives springtime complaints about fraudulent schemes involving roof repair, asphalt paving and tree trimming, as well as verbal agreements that later cannot be verified.
"The rule of thumb is, 'When a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is,' " McDaniel said.
Oftentimes, con artists traveling the region don't stay in one area for long, meaning it's difficult to track them down when you're dissatisfied with their work.
Insist on a written, signed contract before any work begins on your property, McDaniel said. Make sure it contains your name; the name, address and telephone number of the builder or contractor; and a complete and detailed description of the work to be done and the materials to be used.
It should include the grade, quality and quantity of materials to be used, a provision requiring your written approval before any price increases are instituted or before the scope of work is expanded. A statement explaining the builder's or contractor's work guarantee should be included, along with starting and completion dates.
Insist on a complete listing and breakdown of job costs, and full disclosure of payment terms and financing costs if they're part of the deal. Your signature and the contractor's signature must be on the contract before work starts.
Use caution in hiring, and think twice before even considering out-of-town contractors, especially those soliciting door-to-door.
Avoid contractors using terms such as "special introductory offer," "limited-time offer" or those who offer discounts for using your house as a "model home." Don't fall for high-pressure tactics by contractors who want to discuss price "later." Beware of those demanding full payment before work starts.
The Tulsa Better Business Bureau has always recommended, "33 percent to start, 33 percent halfway through and 33 percent on acceptance of the work and complete cleanup of the job site."
Tulsa World consumer writer Phil Mulkins wants to know which topics interest you. Call 918-699-8888, email your suggestion to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail it to Tulsa World Consumer, P.O. Box 1770, Tulsa, OK 74102-1770.
Contractors assess roof damage to a home before giving repair estimates the day after a May 2010 storm in Tulsa. MICHAEL WYKE / Tulsa World file