RALEIGH – In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, state and federal officials caution North Carolinians to be alert for individuals attempting to take advantage of residents making home repairs, those wanting to donate to victims or those trying to obtain vital information under false pretenses. The most common post-disaster fraud practices include phony housing inspectors, fraudulent building contractors, false pleas for disaster donations and fake offers of state or federal aid.
Residents are warned to be especially careful of scammers working in teams. Two or more thieves may pose as agents of the state or federal government to take advantage of residents.
“In a time of great need, it may be easy to accept help offered, but residents must be aware of the potential for fraud,” said Governor Pat McCrory. “It will not be tolerated. I have directed the State Bureau of Investigation to assist local law enforcement in investigating complaints and to take criminal action against scammers.”
Individuals in need should always remember:
Federal and state workers never ask for or accept money.
Always ask for identification. Federal and state workers always carry identification. Do not assume that if they look and sound legitimate, that they are.
There is no fee required to apply for or to get disaster assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the U.S. Small Business Administration or the state.
Fraud attempts can be made in person, over the phone or by mail, email or text.
If you are threatened or intimidated by a potential scammer, call 1-877-5-NOSCAM.
Homeowners should also use caution when hiring workers to make repairs or assist with cleanup. If property loss is suffered to homes or vehicles, property owners should contact their insurance agent as soon as possible to arrange a visit from an adjuster. Some additional points to remember include the following:
Use reliable, licensed contractors/companies. If possible, use local licensed contractors – ones with a permanent street address and that are listed in the local telephone directory.
Check with the local Better Business Bureau or business trades council to make sure the company has no outstanding consumer complaints filed against it.
Get a written estimate. Be sure to obtain a written estimate for the job and read the fine print. Compare the services and prices of several reputable contractors before making a final decision.
Ask for references. Call former customers who had similar work done to see if they were satisfied with the job.
Ask for proof of insurance. Make sure the contractor carries general liability insurance and workers’ compensation. If the contractor is not insured, the homeowner may be liable for accidents that occur on the property or to the house/building.
Obtain a contract. A complete contract will state the tasks to be performed and all associated costs. Do not sign a blank contract or one with blank spaces. Make sure the agreement states who will apply for the necessary permits or licenses. Have a lawyer review the contract if substantial costs are involved.
Know how to cancel a contract. If you need to cancel a contract, do so within three business days of signing. Be sure to follow the agreements stated in the cancellation clauses and send the notification by registered mail.
Ask for written guarantees. Ask for a written guarantee stating who is responsible for equipment and materials.
Do not pay cash. Avoid on-the-spot cash payments; the safest route is to write a check made out to a contracting agency or use a credit card. Negotiate a payment plan, but don’t let payments get ahead of the work being done. Keep records of all payments.
Have the work inspected. If excavation work is being performed (such as sewers or basement walls) make sure a qualified inspector examines the work before it is hidden from view to avoid similar problems in the future.
Create a job file of all papers. Keep track of warranties and change orders, etc.
Complaints against a general contractor can be filed with the North Carolina Licensing Board for General Contractors Violations and Complaints Section at 919-571-4189.Dial 2-1-1 to speak with a trained call specialist about Hurricane Matthew assistance in your area; the service is free, confidential and available in any language. Call 5-1-1 for the latest road conditions or check the ReadyNC mobile app, which also has real-time shelter and evacuation information. For updates on Hurricane Matthew impacts and relief efforts, go to ReadyNC.org or follow N.C. Emergency Management on Twitter and Facebook. People or organizations that want to help ensure North Carolina recovers can visit NCdisasterrelief.org or text NCRecovers to 30306.