The more than 100,000 Gulf Coast residents who are trying to repair the wind and flood damage to their homes caused by Hurricane Harvey do not need any additional challenges. But now Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan is warning homeowners to beware of contractors looking to scam them.
"Unfortunately, with every major disaster comes unscrupulous home repair contractors, many from outside of Texas, who prey upon desperate homeowners struggling to make repairs quickly and get back to their normal lives," Ryan wrote in a news release on Wednesday.
Randy Smidt, the managing attorney for the compliance division, said the county attorney's office has not received any allegations about contractor scams, but said investigators are on the lookout for them.
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"We just hope that everyone can benefit from the insight we pulled together," Smidt said.
The county attorney's office offered several tips for homeowners to avoid becoming easy marks:
— Do NOT do business with a contractor from out of state or someone who is going “door to door.” Try to do business with reputable local businesses only. Get referrals. Check with the Better Business Bureau and Internet complaint boards before hiring a contractor.
— Get a written estimate before you sign a contract. Try to get bids or estimates from 3 different contractors.
— Contact your insurance company before work begins to make sure all procedures under your policy are followed.
— Make sure the work to be done is specified and the price is agreed upon.
— Get a copy of the signed contract.
— Check if your mortgage requires that insurance proceeds be paid directly to your mortgage company subject to periodic inspections of the work. Contact your mortgage company before work begins.
— Do NOT assign your FEMA benefits or insurance proceeds directly to the contractor.
— Do NOT pay for the entire job upfront. If necessary, make only a down payment for the contractor to get started. Make only partial payments in proportion to the amount of work done as the job progresses. Pay only by credit card or check.
— Do NOT make a final payment until you have inspected the work and are satisfied.
If you think you have been scammed by a contractor, you can contact the Harris County Attorney at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 713-755-6065.