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August 11, 2020

Beware of 'storm chaser' scams

Watch out for tree-removal contractors who show up at your door

DES MOINES — Attorney General Tom Miller advised Iowans cleaning up from Monday's storm to beware of the potential for scams.

“Contractors we call ‘storm chasers’ head to these areas to persuade storm victims to hire them on the spot for cleanup and repair work,” Miller said. “Homeowners must be prepared for these contractors’ pitches and promises." 

  • 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 outfit even if it's not an established contractor. Avoid the hard sell.
  • Check out and interview contractors before you sign a contract or pay any money. Request local references and contact them!

Check on complaints with the Attorney General’s Office and check with the Better Business Bureau.  Check to see if a contractor has been sued by unsatisfied customers (or sued them) through Iowa Courts Online.

Check on a contractor’s registration and bonding (which doesn’t guarantee quality of work) at the Iowa Division of Labor website. Ask for a copy of the contractor's liability insurance certificate.

Be wary of a person or company not listed in the local telephone directory.  Contractors who don’t provide a local phone number or a local address (watch for post office box numbers and “office suite” numbers) are probably not local.

  • Get several written estimates, choose the best, and get a contract in writing (and don’t forget to read it!). 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 permits, and that all change orders must be in writing. Put start and completion dates in writing, and the remedies if the contractor fails to meet them. (Example: the contract could be nullified if the contractor doesn't start on time.)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Write down a license plate number and vehicle description, or take a picture of the vehicle and plate.  Keep this for your records.

Go to www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.gov for more tips on preventing scams, and for more information on hiring contractors, price gouging and donation scams.

To 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 consumer@ag.iowa.gov.

 

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