OKLAHOMA CITY -- Hundreds of families are rebuilding homes or repairing damage following the May 24 tornado outbreak. And while many good-hearted Oklahomans are jumping in to help, some criminals are ready to take advantage of the situation.
The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management (OEM) is urging residents and business owners to be on the lookout for possible scam artists. Crooks often target people during stressful times.
In order to protect yourself, OEM suggests you follow these steps when hiring a contractor:
- Be extremely cautious of anyone coming to your home or business uninvited and offering to do repairs.
- Be alert to individuals canvassing your neighborhood in an unmarked van or truck.
- Insist on obtaining a written estimate or contract. Be sure the contract or business card has an address and telephone number.
- Ask for references and check them out.
- Don't be pressured into making a quick decision. Try to get three separate bids on the job.
- Insist on start and completion dates in the contract, and do not pay the final balance until the work is completed to your satisfaction. Be cautious in dealing with a contractor who asks for a large down payment.
- Ask contractors if they have done this type of repair work before, if they will be purchasing necessary permits, and if the work will be inspected. Be sure the contract spells out who will pay for any necessary permits.
- Avoid making final payment until you have received a lien release. Always pay for repair work by check or credit card in order to keep a record and avoid double charges.
- Be cautious of contractors who claim to be state or FEMA certified when, in fact, neither the state nor FEMA certifies or endorses contractors.
"People impacted by disasters can be particularly vulnerable," said OEM Director Albert Ashwood. "We hope this information can help Oklahomans move forward in the recovery process and prevent them from being victimized twice."
Anyone who suspects fraud is urged to contact the Oklahoma Attorney General's Consumer Protection Unit at (405) 521-2029.