Avoid weather-related cleanup and repair scams
Iowans should be prepared when conditions are right for scammers following severe weather events
With severe storm season upon us, Iowans shouldn’t just be prepared for adverse weather; they also should be on the lookout for “storm chasers” who come to town after such events, Attorney General Tom Miller advises.
These “storm chasers” are often out-of-state contractors who swoop into neighborhoods, going door to door, offering their services to repair home damage and clean up debris.
“Contractors will try to take advantage of homeowners’ desperation for quick clean-up and repairs following storms and other adverse weather events,” Miller warned. “Consumers should take the time to research the contractors who come to their door selling services, and be wary of pitches and promises that seem too good to be true.”
How to spot a scam
The Federal Trade Commission offers the following signs that you may be dealing with a scammer:
- Scammers knock on your door looking for business because they are “in the area.”
- Scammers say they have materials left over from a previous job.
- Scammers pressure you for an immediate decision.
- Scammers ask you to pay for everything up front or only accept cash.
- Scammers ask you to get any required building permits.
- Scammers suggest you borrow money from a lender they know.
Tips for hiring a contractor
To further protect yourself and your money, follow our checklist and keep the below tips in mind before hiring a contractor:
- Be wary of contractors who show up at your door. If at all possible, deal with an established and reputable local business. Try to deal with a local company even if it's not an established contractor to ensure if they will come back to make any needed repairs or provide warranty work if needed
- Research contractors.
- Request local references and contact them.
- Ask if the contractor is registered with the Iowa Workforce Development's Division of Labor Services. You can check a contractor's registration online through the Division of Labor Services website, or call 1-800-562-4692 or 515-242-5871.
- Check Iowa Courts Online for past court cases.
- See if there are complaints on file with the Better Business Bureau and the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division.
- Get it in writing. Before work begins, agree on a written contract detailing terms including the work to be done, the brand and/or the specifications of the materials to be used, the price, who is responsible for obtaining permits and scheduling inspections, that all change orders must be in writing, and establish who is responsible for cleanup. Put start and completion dates in writing, and the remedies if the contractor fails to meet them.
- Avoid paying large sums or the entire job up-front. If you need to make a partial advance payment for materials, make your check out to the supplier and the contractor. Insist on a "mechanic's lien waiver" in case the contractor fails to pay others for materials or labor. You can search to see who may have claimed the right to place a lien on your house through the Iowa Secretary of State website or by calling (515) 281-5204. Do not pay the contractor in full until you verify that all the parties listed on the website have been paid in full.
- Understand your insurance: If you’re filing an insurance claim to cover the costs of damages, negotiate the details with your insurance company directly and not through a contractor. Make sure your insurance provider will cover the cost of repairs before you sign a contract.
- Explore financing options: It’s usually safer and a better deal to obtain financing through your local bank or credit union, rather than a contractor.
- Know your right to cancel: If you sign a contract somewhere other than the contractor's regular place of business, such as at your home, you have three business days to cancel the contract without penalty However, you must provide a cancellation notice in writing to the contractor.
File a complaint:
If you think someone has broken the law, contact local law enforcement. If you feel you’ve been wronged, file a complaint with the Iowa Attorney General. Call 515-281-5926 or 888-777-4590 (outside of the Des Moines metro area) or email email@example.com.