TUPELO – Volunteers, government agencies and faith-based organizations have mobilized in droves to aid those who have lost their homes or need help in removing debris after Monday’s tornado.
But with the legitimate helpers come disaster repair scammers.
Kenneth Estes, president of the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Northeast Mississippi, said he has already seen contractors in out-of-town vehicles looking for work.
“One guy just got run off today because he was asking for a $1,500 down payment before doing any work,” Estes said.
A down payment shouldn’t be necessary, Estes said.
“They come out of the woodwork at times like this,” said Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson, who remembered seeing shady people and businesses trying to scam tornado victims in Smithville just two years ago. “People that are able to help and provide resources are going to have plenty of credentials. They’re going to give you references, brochures and business cards.”
Johnson said anyone offering to do roof work or tree removal who can’t provide any local references is suspect.
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said the best way to avoid a scam is to ask for references from anyone offering to make repairs on damaged property, compare multiple contractors and make sure they are each properly licensed and bonded.
Many contractors follow storms from town to town to repair damage caused by the storms and while they may be legitimate companies, chances are non-local companies will not be around to take responsibility for those repairs if something happens to them later.
The National Storm Damage Center and Better Business Bureau warn homeowners to ask for local references and compare multiple contractors before signing any contracts to have a home inspected or repaired.
They also warn homeowners to ask contractors to provide proof of adequate insurance covering workman’s compensation as well as property and personal liability so they aren’t left footing the bill after a costly accident or mistake.
The Mississippi Attorney General’s office recommends homeowners do the following when hiring contractors for repair work:
• Hire only licensed and bonded contractors.
• Use Mississippi contractors if you can.
• Verify the contractor’s license by checking online at www.msboc.us.
• Be wary of supposed contractors who solicit business home to home.
• Always get more than one estimate – three bids are recommended.
• Request references and talk with those references.
• Put all terms in writing.A model contract can be found at www.agjimhood.com
Business editor Dennis Seid contributed to this story.