home-improvement scam
Illustration: Sara Ghasletwala
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The Scam

"Any time there are natural disasters, scammers come out of the woodwork to take advantage," says Rick Lopes, of the California Contractors State License Board. These crooks, who descend from faraway places and stay for just a few days or weeks, advertise on classified-ad websites and with signs taped to lampposts in hard-hit neighborhoods. They offer to do repairs quickly, without the hassle of obtaining building permits. In exchange, they ask for all or most of the money up front. And although they often finish the work, it’s generally subpar. These fly-by-nighters may even leave the house in worse shape than they found it, says Lopes.

How Not to Get Taken: Make sure the contractor’s card lists a local business address, not a post-office box. “I’d be very suspicious of a contractor soliciting work where he doesn’t live,” says Dean Herriges, secretary of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. “For a contractor to travel outside of a local radius wastes time and money.” After a disaster, lists of area contractors can usually be found through regional builders’ associations, FEMA, and state regulators. Just keep in mind that when your entire town is rebuilding, you may have to line up for that trusted tree-removal service. But it’s better to wait than gamble on an unknown.
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