SOUTHWEST FLORIDA — As we head into Hurricane Season, Southwest Floridians need to be on their toes as door-to-door scammers may attempt to take advantage of unsuspecting homeowners. Scammers have been known to specifically target older adults who might be dependent on hired workers to clear debris or perform repairs on their home. Some scammers may pose as home repair specialists or licensed contractors but are simply con artists looking for easy access and easy money.
Florida seniors can protect themselves from becoming victims of home repair fraud by following these important tips:
• Make sure the contractor has a valid contractor’s license and insurance. An occupational license is NOT a construction license. The Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation (DBPR) issues licenses and takes complaints of contractors (1-850-487-1395). You can also check with your local law enforcement agency and the Better Business Bureau to see if there have been any complaints or reports of fraud against the business. If you suspect unlicensed activity, contact the DBPR Unlicensed Activity Division (1-866-532-1440).
• Before you agree to or sign any contract, have your lawyer review and explain the terms. You may contact the Senior Legal Helpline (1-888-895-7873) or the Florida Bar Lawyer Referral Service (1-800-342-8011) for legal assistance.
• Never fall for phone or door-to-door offers of free estimates, home inspections or “special deals”. Very few, if any, legitimate contractors do this, especially after a storm.
• Never pay cash! Never pay for unfinished work or jobs that have not been inspected. Paying by check or money order provides a written record. If a contractor wants money in advance, consider paying the material supplier directly.
• Always compare estimates carefully; it’s a good idea to get bids or estimates from at least three companies.
• Protect yourself from liens against your home. Make sure your contract states that the contractor will obtain notarized, written releases of lien from all subcontractors and suppliers BEFORE make each payment.
• Never agree to get your own permits; that will make you directly responsible for everything.
• Never be pressured into making hasty decisions.
• Never let a stranger in your home and never accept an offer to take you to the bank to withdraw money for any reason. Keep all doors, including the garage door, closed and locked at all times.
• Don’t hesitate to IMMEDIATELY report unknown or suspicious people, activity, or vehicles to your local law enforcement agency.